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.



You Need to Stop Now


I have had it.  Why can’t everyone be like Thumper in Bambi? “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”  With all the awareness on bullying, and the huge anti bullying campaign that schools are putting on, you would think educators would learn to filter what they say to students and not become part of the bullying problem.  Now, I don’t expect them to be perfect angels and always say the right thing and never be inappropriate ever.  That would be hypocritical of me, because I sometimes let something pass through my speech filter that shouldn’t have.  What I do expect them to do is to apologize.  Whether it be better individually or in front of the class, they should say sincerely, “I was wrong about saying this to Polly.  I was completely rude and out of line, and I am sorry for hurting you with my words.”

Too many times this is not the case though.  If they even think to say that they are “sorry”, it is a fake apology and just makes the student more hurt, or they just don’t stop to think that what they said was really hurtful.  Then the teacher goes on with life, never knowing that what they said sent a little girl home in tears and made her insecure.  Most people would feel awful, if they knew their words caused insecurity and tears.  I know I would, most definitely.

There are three parts to this problem: students, teachers, and parents; and I will address each one individually.  But the root of the problem is poor communication or lack there of.  Now, don’t think I am this brilliant communicator that has no problem letting people know when they have hurt me, and am not afraid of the repercussions of speaking up.  I am not, by any means, that vocal person.  I have suffered through two years of certain people hurting me with their actions and their words.  I didn’t say anything because of fear of repercussions and fear of being treated differently because I stood up for myself and said, “This is enough and it needs to stop now.”  I regret not saying anything now.  Who knows if it would have helped or not, but at least they would know about the pain they put me through.

First off, to the hurt students.  Have you ever thought about telling the teacher that hurt you that they hurt you?  Yes, it will be considered an “awkward” conversation, because that means you have to talk about your feelings.  Why has society made it so socially unacceptable to show people your emotions?  Especially if they have hurt your feelings! But that is a rant for a whole separate blog post, so I will save you from that.  Have you ever thought of telling your parents what is going on?  I know, some people aren’t as fortunate and don’t have the utterly amazing parents that I do, that will be there for me no matter what, and who will stand up for me whenever it’s needed.  But, I encourage you to find someone to tell!  It can be anyone that would be willing to stand up for you!  A friend’s parent, an older sibling, a relative, just someone who can have your back. I want you to seriously consider telling the person that hurt you how it made you feel, because most likely they didn’t intend to make you feel that way.

Second, to the parents of hurt children. LISTEN to your kids.  Watch them, spend time with them, and be someone they will come to when they are hurt, so you can help them.  The only reason my parents didn’t speak up and go to the school about it, was because I didn’t want them too and they didn’t want to sacrifice the trust I had in them, by going behind my back.  Respect your kids opinion, don’t be pushy about it, but let them know that what the person did to them was wrong and it would be a very good idea for them to be told how much it hurt. Documentation is key.  For every one person that speaks up, there might be three other people who have been hurt that won’t speak up.  That is how rude teachers get away with being rude.   Don’t force your student to talk to them if they don’t want to, maybe just you need to go in and talk to them or something.  The biggest thing to remember is to not break that trust that your kid has in you in confiding in you.  If you do, it will be very hard to get it back, and most likely they won’t tell you things like that again.  I realize I’m painting a pretty fine line to walk, but just focus on being there for your kid and the rest of the necessary steps will follow.

Lastly, to the teachers.  I realize that most of you aren’t trying to be mean.  You might have just cracked a joke on the wrong day, been agitated and said something you shouldn’t have, or for some other reason, accidentally was mean.  If you have the slightest feeling that your comment could have been taken the wrong way, apologize.  It never hurts to apologize.  If a student or parent approaches you with something you have done or said that was hurtful, try your hardest not to get defensive.  I know it is hard when someone is pointing out one of your mistakes, I struggle with it more often than not.  Listen to them, and apologize sincerely.  Then, learn from your mistake.  If you keep making the same mistake over and over, and people keep talking to you about it, it can cost you your job.  The student is the school’s first priority, so if complaint after complaint is filed about you, then I would hope you would change your ways before it came to firing you, but I am very sure that after you lost your job for being rude to students, you would learn very quickly the importance of not saying rude things to people.

As you can see, this issue is a three-way street.  It beings with parents being there for their kids, so that the kids can go to their parents when they are being bullied.  Then the parents have to decide with their student what action to take, whether to wait and see if it was a one time thing, or if it will happen again.  Communicate with your student, but things only get fixed if there is feedback to either the teacher that is being rude, directly, or to that teacher’s supervisor.  That teacher then can choose to change or not(I recommend change and apologize), but now the rudeness has been documented, so that it can hopefully be stopped, one way or another.  Good communication on all levels is key.  People need to start standing up for themselves, and then hopefully the rudeness and injustices will end.

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