How can students balance school and life

Students in the modern age have it so much harder than we did when we were young. I hear all the time from adults that they had it soooo tough when they were kids in school. I’m calling bullshit on that. I can’t remember EVER doing more than two hours of homework in a night in middle school and maybe no more than three hours in high school. Most of the time I was procrastinating on getting something done because I really really wanted to watch the latest episode of Airwolf or McGuyver (*facepalm-I just admitted my age…).

Yet students today are routinely expected to accomplish at least 30 minutes of homework per class each night by the end of middle school That’s great if you are a top student and it only takes you the required amount of time but I’ve had former students come back to my classroom and tell me that they average three hours (or more) per night on their homework. If you add up 30 minutes per class: Four core classes of English, Math, Science, and History PLUS a language, tech, music, art, PhysEd (yes there is homework in PhysEd now), government, civics, AP courses, etc… it gets you to at least three hours per night really quick. Add on top of this workload the daily pressures that parents place on their kids. They’ve over organized their child’s’ life into play-dates, after school clubs, sports teams, music lessons, and lets not forget the added social pressure to be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat et al,. to keep up on the most recent goings on of friends and crushes.

It’s no wonder that many of my former students have told me that they routinely go to bed sometime between 11:30 and 1am EVERY night.

Think about what that means to the development of a young person’s brain. It is pretty well established that teenagers need on average of 9-10 hours of sleep per day. They are growing not just physically but their brains are entering into a rapid stage of development that requires extra blood flow and energy to consistently perform at a high level.

So how can kids balance it all?

The short answer is that … I have no fucking clue. Sorry kids. If you thought there was some sort of magic bullet here that I was about to illuminate you with that could cure the crunch for more hours in a day…. oops, my bad. But I will say there are a few things you can do to make it suck a little less. These tips are in no particular order and some of them may not pertain to you specifically but all of them can help ease some of the daily pressure.

  1. Be honest with yourself: It takes a lot of strength to be honest with where you are inside your own head. Keep a journal or make a habit of recording your thoughts or musings in blog. Do it for yourself. You don’t have to publish it or have anyone else read them. Putting thoughts, feelings and emotions on the page has a magical effect of making problems that seem insurmountable at first, dry up and disappear when you start describing exactly what you are feeling.
  2. Be honest with your parents: This one is REALLY hard to do. Most parents are truly loving people who have absolutely no idea what they are doing. I’m one of them and let me tell you, you kids did not come with an instruction manual when you were born. For every piece of parenting advice out there on the internet, there are three pieces offering a contrary point of view. Seriously though, parents really are trying to be on your side. Being able to develop a mutually trusting relationship with them will actually make your life easier and better. It takes time to give a little respect to get some in return but trust me, you want your parents on your side when shit really hits the fan.
  3. Do at least one thing that brings you joy each day: Do you have a hobby? Get one. It doesn’t have to be anything drastic or expensive like skydiving but it should be something that you can do almost anywhere, and it should be able to bring a smile to your face as you block the rest of the din, out. If you like to collect dead insects, great! Do you like to play the Ukulele? I may not understand why, but sweet! Good for you! I’m happy you found your own private Idaho. Being able to focus creative energy into something for the sheer sake of personal enjoyment is probably the most important life choice you can make. I learned how to play the guitar many many years ago. I still suck at it, but when I pick it up, everything else melts aways for a few minutes and I am at peace. Yeah.
  4. Getting a ‘B’ on a test or quiz is not the end of the world: Seriously. Getting into Harvard, Stanford, or Springfield Community College is not hinging on one quiz. In fact more and more schools are not taking grades as much into account. Just try to keep a level head about this stuff. Coming from a teacher here, it always pained me to see that one kid who never got less than a A- before, fail a quiz. The sobs, the tears… over an 88% on a location quiz for Asian countries?!?!? I would try to tell the kid ‘t’s how you respond to the failure that is more important than the grade itself. (On a side note/rant here…. I can’t stand when parents try to email me about their wonderful amazing child who couldn’t sleep because I GAVE THEM an F on their quiz…ummm they earned that, I didn’t give anything)
    1. Neither is your boyfriend/girlfriend breaking up with you. This is like the social side of getting a bad grade…Get a grip of yourself. The reality is that your high school sweetheart will not end up being your husband or wife. I know of two couples I have met in my entire life who fit that description. If you do make, please tell me, I want to congratulate you 🙂 seriously.
  5. Practice being present, daily. Probably one of the most important things you can learn in life…It takes constant practice to pull off but if you try to take a few seconds at the start of every class, it will bring your blood pressure down, slow your heart rate, ease anxiety, and calm your mind into a state of hyper focus. Just take 20 seconds and close your eyes. Focus on slowing your breathing down and focus on your exhales. Ask yourself how you can make the next fifty minutes better for everyone else around you. By framing your experience as a way to improve the lives of others, you will gain more insights and be more engaged on the learning at hand.
  6. Reach out to friends when you need help with school: Even if you have just one friend, use them. Friends are friends because they want to be there for you. They are your friends because they like you and enjoy your company. When a friend sees that you are in pain (physically or emotionally) they want to help. Let them. I recently had to reach out to a close friend of mine because I was having trouble with a work project that he and I are engaged with. Having the knowledge of knowing my friend was there for me to listen and support me, made all the difference in being honest with what I was feeling and helped me process the situation and come out of my anxiety and fear. Friends rock.
  7. Don’t be afraid of cutting back on commitments: You want to take part in everything under the sun. You want to be one three sports teams and be in the school play, and in the band, jazz band, orchestra…not to mention be in the Boy Scouts and sing in your church choir. You even want to get a part time job so you can afford to take your girlfriend out. Something will have to give. It always does. If you don’t make the hard choice to cut out the stuff you can’t handle, the choice will most likely be made for you. And lets be honest here, it won’t be your first choice. Usually it’s the girlfriend/boyfriend who says, “Um, you don’t have enough time for me so…. I’m out”. You may not see it until it is too late. If you feel yourself being strapped for time, take a quick inventory of your week and try to add up (honestly) how much free ‘you’ time you actually have. If it’s less than an hour a day, you need to cut back on something. You can always come back to the thing you dropped when things calm down
  8. Learn to laugh at yourself. If you don’t develop an ability to laugh at yourself in the most trying of circumstances… you’re screwed. Just kidding. But, being able to realize that this thing called life is sometimes a big, cruel joke and that the people who take it too seriously are the ones who lose in the end, will make you a stronger, more mentally capable human being. It will develop your sense of compassion, humility and appreciation for the little things in life that make it worthwhile. Learning to take the rough patches in stride and appreciate the little absurdities in life will help you immeasurably.

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