Over-Involved and Under-Committed: The New Generation

When I was growing up, my parents had a rule for my sister and I (well they had many) but the particular one had to do with commitment.  They told us that we could only choose one sport/ extracurricular activity at a time. We were not the over committed family that always had 3 soccer games, a softball game, church, and a girl scout meeting all in a weekend. The most I got away with doing was soccer and girl scouts at the same time.  And this was permitted only because Girl Scouts met once a week for maybe two hours at a time.  It wasn’t a huge time commitment, my parents believed it was important, and I liked it.  They wanted to preserve family time and their sanity.  I am so grateful that they did.

But I am noticing a growing trend that concerns me.  First in society as a whole; that we are way to busy.  I am totally guilty of this, so I am not preaching from any pulpit, that’s for sure.  Secondly, many people, especially high schoolers, are over-involved and under-committed.  Now, hear me when I say that.  Over-involved and under-committed; how is that even possible?

To answer that question, I ask you to reflect upon what most colleges are looking for in a competitive applicant.  They want a well-rounded individual, who has played a varsity sport, been the president of a club, while being involved in two other clubs, been involved in the community, and on top of all that maintained stellar grades and achieved great test scores. I feel like they are asking for their applicants to dabble and under commit to everything, just so they can attain that “over-committed” level that colleges look for.  If there was a common mantra among current high school students, I’m pretty sure it could be, “Just do it for the app.”

The frustrating thing about this over-involvement is that instead of picking a couple of things that they love and committing to them and being super involved with them, students are doing things for the label, just so they can say they are “involved” on their college application.  AND COLLEGES SEEM TO ENCOURAGE THIS!  Though I’m sure every admissions counselor would say, “We would much rather you be deeply involved in a few things that you are passionate about, instead of a bazillion different things”; the activities section on the common app begs to differ. There are ten different sections to fill out describing your different activities and involvements in high school.  And if you only fill out four of them, that’s leaving a lot of blank space on the application that decides your scholastic fate.  Thus, students are driven to over involve themselves and under commit.  It is impossible to be completely committed to ten different activities, maintain good grades, have some semblance of a social life, and still sleep for the 8-9 hours recommended for teenagers.

What is created is a “Do it for the college application” attitude. And one can assume how frustrating and annoying this attitude can be. Try taking already slightly noncommittal teenagers, throwing them into ten different activities, and telling them to be committed to every one.  What you get is the bare minimum, a warm body in meetings, brain only half there, constantly thinking of all the other things that have to be done.  The expectation is that we are able to do it all, while in reality we have no chance.



6 thoughts on “Over-Involved and Under-Committed: The New Generation

  1. Lindsey, as much as I acknowledge your thoughts on logic about school clubs/sports/and extracurricular activities, reality is, in my own opinion which might be harsh and somewhat “cruel”, that colleges don’t care about how much sleep you get, how little time you spend with friends, they just want money and the person that they see, according to the application was most active in high school. Trust me I dislike it as much as you. It’s hit me so much that I have terrible habits: sleeping for 5 hours, maybe 4 sometimes, eat very little during the day until I get home then eat the entire refrigerator. I don’t go out very often on the weekends because of so many performances, practices, and HW; even during the week. But when I do go out I dress up and make it special. In the end all that stuff that we do will mold us into the person we are meant to be. I follow a moral code that I made for myself, it’s a list but I will tell you a few. -What I do now will affect my future, I can decide to work my but off now and in college to have the life that I dream of or I can let time slip away from me. Plus I watch a lot of inspiration videos to keep me moving forward with life’s challenges.

    1. I agree that we need to make our outings special, because you are right they don’t happen very often. I also see where you are coming from on the “work hard now, to have a good future and college experience” but once you are out of college- what then? You will work at a stressful, high paying job? It seems to me like a never ending pit, once you slip in, it is very hard to get back out.
      At the same time, I am guilty of falling into the same mantra, “keep going now, so you can slow down later” and I have to remember, what if there is no later? Not in the morbid sense, but more in the sense that I want what I am doing now to have value, influence, an impact, and meaning NOW, and not just prep me for later.

      1. Yes I understand what your saying, high school academics is meaningful. The way I see it its like a big slide, we work as hard as we can to make it to the top. After we reach the top we graduate and go down the slide using the height, how far we went, as our kinetic energy with gravity to determine how far we will go. Then again we can determine our own destiny by what we do to strive to get to where we want to be. Don’t worry about the resting part of your “work life”, what goes up must come down.

  2. I think there is something worse going on here… when you are WILLING at the tender age of 14, 15, 16 to sell your soul to get into the college “of your dreams” (notice we always say “of your dreams”) then you are letting that college know: no matter what the cost I will find a way to afford your sky-rocket tuition, just look at my willingness to do ANYTHING for just a chance at your fine university.

    It’s sad and scary. I hope my son survives the pressure and process with his heart intact.

    1. It truly is. I cannot emphasize enough the impact my parents have had on my decisions, so there is hope for him, in that you see the faults in the system and can at least offer guidance so that he can choose to avoid falling into it. I imagine that he has a strong head on his shoulders, and that will help him immensely as well.

  3. One of the things I pride myself with is going to bed at around 10 or 11pm every weekday night. Believe it or not, I’m not all that involved at school. My secret is having a single talent that covers a range of activities. For me, photography allows me to participate in Yearbook, Baron Banner, BBN, and more. I realize that not everybody shares my fortunate situation, but I don’t sympathize for the people who have a million things to do, and who aren’t putting in the time to do them well. I dislike how newer generations are treating high school as a training ground for college, when it should be a place where you can find who you are and who you want to be. I just wish the teachers and older generation of students would do more to suppress the “Do it for college” attitude. The school would be a much better place if people stick to what they’re good at and/or what they want to be good at. Eliminating the specter of college is how we can start.

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