Thursday, January 19, 2017

Why is school so stressful??

I spent a large portion of time today, convincing a sixteen year old that his life would not end if he failed his AP physics midterm. That, even if it tanked his GPA, his life would still, somehow, be worth living. We talked about a lot of things - his (most likely situational) depression and how he doesn't think it's capital D Depression (and No, Thank You: He Would Not Like To Talk To Anyone About It, Auntie!); the fact that group projects have always, and will always, suuuuck; the fact that he puts all these roadblocks and excuses up in his own way, and makes it seem like things are impossible to accomplish, when they are not; the idea that he will be taking a much less stressful course load as a senior next year, and why can't it be senior year already; his belief that having driving lessons curtailed as a consequence to poor behavior is 'totally unfair', while I think it is 'maximum effort', and hopefully, never necessary. So Many Things.  Hours worth of things. 

And I never felt like I knew what the hell I was talking about. 

I swear to you, I wanted to Google a million things while we were sitting there - building self confidence in teenagers, how to tell if a teenage boy is Capital D Depressed; what do colleges take into account beside your GPA, and on and on.  I didn't, because texting while you're talking is considered (by me, at least) rude, so I didn't, but all of my answers felt, at the very least, humblingly inadequate.

"It's not fair that I should have to do all the work in a group project! I should just tell my teacher, or take the zero." "Um: No.  If I find out you took a zero on a project just because the other people weren't pulling their weight, we're going to have an issue.  Sometimes, you're going to have to deal with people who let you down, who don't do their share.  You're right: It is 100% unfair, and you SHOULD mention it to the teacher - (bc one kid is dropping the class, he is doing literally no work for the project, and should not have been assigned to a group, IMO)- but, since it's due on Tuesday, at this point, you're either going to have to ride the other people in the group till they produce their part, or do their part for the sake of your grade. It's not fair, but it is Do-able." 

"Well, the test will be scaled, so all I need to do is get about a 45, and that will still be a C, scaled up." (I have no idea how the math works on that, just that's what he said.) "You can - for sure - do better than a 45, and you need to set your sights a lot higher than that. Are you studying the right things; Is there anyway I can help you study, so you can do better? Because aiming for a low pass is something you're better than." 

"I never should have taken this class, I'm in so over my head, and it's impossible to pass, and I'll probably get a 2 on my AP test, and then it will all have been a big waste of my time."  "OK: I can see how it would feel that way, but you have to try to reframe it a bit, I think.  It's not impossible to pass, because you are passing it. Even if you get a 2 on the AP test, you will still have passed AP Physics. Yes, I know your grades aren't where you want them to be, and here are 2 specific things I think you can do to bring it up some this next quarter, but stop thinking of it as impossible, because that just gives you an excuse if you don't do it.  You ARE doing it. You don't need the excuses." 

 And on and on.  I felt like a mix between one of my therapists, and a Hallmark "You can DO it: I have faith in you!" card. (Because that was literally something I said.  It felt so sappy, but it's also 1000000% true, so I figured it needed to be said.)

Mostly what I wanted to say was this:

You are an amazing kid, and I don't like how overwhelmed and stressed out you are right now.  I am going to help you find some better coping strategies, because this is not working out for you.  I also think that maybe you should take some deep breaths, and listen to me when I say: This class - pass or fail, A or D - is not going to be the be-all-end-all of your life.  I know it feels that way right now, because I went through it myself.  But 15 years later? None of those things actually mattered.  What matters is how I responded to tough parts; how you hang in there when things are hard - in school or in life - THAT IS WHAT MATTERS.  So let me help you figure out how to hang in there.  How to breathe, even in the midst of the really tough times.  How to see a challenge that feels overwhelming, and still know - even if nobody else shows up - that you can tackle it.  Because You Absolutely Can.  And I will help you, for as long as you need my help, but I'm also going to show you how to do it yourself.  Because those are the skills you need. 

And off he goes, to take a test he's petrified of, and all I can do is say "Stub a toe" (our family's version of 'Break a leg') and cross my fingers, and know, even if he doesn't, that he can handle whatever comes at him.


Susan from the Pacific Northwest said...

No easy answers here. But I thought I'd share a post from my favorite work related blog on school group projects as compared to work group projects. My son went through this a number of times. Argh.

Sounds like you are doing pretty well in your answers. One of the things I emphasized in discussions like this is not the GRADES (so much inequity and ridiculousness there), but the LEARNING. Are you LEARNING, if not, what can you do to LEARN. And of course work hard, and do your best.

Best wishes, and thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

While I think you are absolutely doing the right thing in helping this kid see that the grade truly isn't the end of the world (it isn't), I don't necessarily think it is a bad thing to mention the benefits of doing really well (undeniable).

The fact is, high school kids these days are in situations that even those of us ten years ago (like myself) did not have to deal with. Since the goal for pretty much everyone in high school now is to go to college, the stakes have been ramped up to an almost unsustainable degree. While you definitely don't need to be the top of the class, doing your best really can make a difference in terms of college admissions, financial aid packages, etc.

That being said, please tell him this: I also took AP Physics in high school, which was not that long ago for me. I was terrible at it. I didn't make the grade to get college credit in it, and I also felt like it was a giant waste of my time.

HOWEVER, want to know why I was so glad I ultimately did it? The following year, when I was enrolled in general physics as a college freshman, it absolutely helped me get a good grade. Sure, it would have been better to already have the credit and be done with it, like some of my friends, but it was actually almost as good having an edge on some of the concepts and not being the worst in the class. And since I am so awful at physics to begin with, I can't imagine how lost I would have been starting brand-new in college.

You should also tell him that I'm almost done with medical school. I'm entering a surgery residency in a couple of months. So, although i didn't get AP credit in physics...doing it anyway helped me not tank the college class where it actually mattered, which ultimate got me where I needed to go. Good luck!