Graduation season is upon us. Whether it’s your niece, neighbor, or your own child, it seems like everyone knows someone who’s graduating in any given year. For me, it’s my 5 year old twins’ preschool graduation. Yes, apparently that is a thing now. They will get robes and everything. Sheesh! It’s also the 54 seniors I teach day in and day out. I adore when a student honors me with a graduation photo or party invite. It’s wonderful to know that somehow I’ve made a difference in their lives.
Yet, how many times have you heard that this next generation is lazy, over-stimulated, entitled, lack work ethic, inattentive, and are over-medicated for learning disorders? The list goes on and on. Apparently, as parents, we are ruining the next generation because we give them iPads too young and let them use them too much. That we use the television as a babysitter and don’t interact with our children. And we give in to their every need, never saying “no”. We are inundated with these types of posts on our social media. I’ve seen the “like/share if you stayed outside until the street lights came on” post about 100 times.
But here’s the thing, the same generation that played outside all hours of the day, only watched TV during Saturday morning cartoons, and rode our bikes to the park (all with no adult supervision) is the same generation raising these children that are so openly criticized. How did we get it so wrong?
Maybe we didn’t.
As an educator for 17 years, I’m here to tell you that our kids are all right. As adults we think we know what K-12 schooling is like because, duh, we were all students at one point in our lives. Of course, we had plenty of homework in elementary school, adding in extracurriculars in middle school and jobs in high school. We managed to do it all, so why can’t this generation? School today is nothing like when we went to school. It’s nothing like when I began teaching 17 years ago. It’s not even the same as 5 years ago. The demands and pressures placed on our students today are nothing like we experienced; they’re not even close.
Could you read before kindergarten? I know I couldn’t. (My husband swears he could but I think he’s full of it!) The expectation now is that children should ideally be reading at the kindergarten level. On top of that, children are doing addition and subtraction beginning in kindergarten. Why put that type of pressure on a 5 year old? I’m pretty sure I spent most of kindergarten doing art projects, singing songs, playing outside, and learning to tie my shoes. I’m just thankful I wasn’t a glue sniffer.
And don’t even get me started on the amount of homework kids have these days. What happened to the 10-minute philosophy? Through my education, training, and experience, I whole heartedly agree with the notion that the amount of homework should be equivalent to the grade level in 10 minute increments. Meaning in 3rd grade a student should have approximately 30 minutes of homework, in 6th grade 60 minutes, in 9th grade 90 minutes, and in 12th grade 120 minutes. Yet, I know high schoolers that spend 4 and 5 hours per night on homework. And I know 1st graders with an hour of homework. Seriously? 1st grade? They’re 6!
The Internet is a blessing and a curse. I come from the days of deciphering the Dewey Decimal System in order to find books in the library. Often we were required to find 3-5 sources for research papers or projects. With the onset of Internet searching we now expect students to have upwards of 10, 15, even 20 sources for a paper or project. There is so much knowledge at our fingertips and it’s so easy to find, that we expect students to use as much of it as they can. But often, what is not considered, is how much time students spend reading and trying to comprehend all of that material. Much less making connections between sources and information to compile into the final product. Plus, the Internet blesses and curses the young with social media, which is worthy of another whole post!
These same children are playing sports year round. No longer are there “sports seasons”. Hockey and basketball are not just winter sports, leagues run all year long. Dance, cheerleading, and gymnastics run 10-12 months of the year. And if you want your child to play at the middle and high school levels, you better get them in every league you can. Tryouts are brutal.
But don’t forget these children with hours of homework and practices, also have to complete community service hours in order to graduate. Plus they have to boost their college applications by joining as many clubs and activities both inside and outside of school. The pressure to do it all, and be it all, is downright overwhelming. Yet these children step up to the challenge.
Children today are not lazy, they are not entitled, and in no way, shape, or form do they lack work ethic. A child that gets up at 6am on a Saturday to compete in a weekend tournament is not lazy. A child that has been told that they can grow up to be whatever they want and has set expectations to achieve their goals is not entitled. The students I have seen come through high school are increasingly more involved in their schools and their communities. They are some of the hardest working, and yet overextended, young adults. They have developed more skills and coping mechanisms than I ever had at their age.
As grownups we need to appreciate and respect what our young people experience during their formative years. And as parents, we sometimes need to take a step back and look at what we ask of our children. Are we signing them up for too many activities? Are we placing unrealistic demands on them regarding schooling and activities? Do we need to step in and make a tough decision, forcing our child to quit a sport or drop a class? Even though our children can handle the demands placed upon them, should we be asking so much of them?
We are producing some of the most well-read, analytical, tech-savvy children on the planet. Our current graduates leave high school knowing how to examine and appreciate diverse perspectives on an issue, evaluate the credibility of a source, and discuss controversial topics among many other skills and abilities. But above all they know how to adapt. This might be the most adaptable generation ever.
The other night I spent an hour or so at a scholarship recognition event. The awardees are some of the most involved, dedicated, respectful, poised, and motivated young adults in our community. So much that the board awarded more scholarships this year than in previous years. They are more aware of current events and politics than we ever were, and more affected by them too. The concept of global citizenship is integral to who this generation is. Hearing them speak about their experiences and their future evoked many emotions, but most of all pride because these children are the future. And these children are more than all right.