When our kids were small, we moved to a new school district in time for my son to start kindergarten. As I was filling out his new student paperwork, I realized, unexpectedly, that our new district had a different age cut off than our previous district. This meant that my daughter, already enrolled in preschool, would have to either be tested to see if she could be admitted to kindergarten or complete another year of preschool.
At the time, I remember the decision feeling enormous. It felt like her whole school career depended on our decision. Would she be the youngest in her class and struggle? Or, would she be the older kid and excel? I would lay awake at night, tossing and turning while worrying about her future.
Little did I know that was just the beginning of my academic worries for my children.
Ultimately, we decided to keep her in preschool after a friend reminded me that sometimes, it’s okay not push your kid. She said, “It’s just preschool. Relax, she’s three. Let her enjoy school.” And you know what? Ten years later, she is just where she should be with her classmates and middle school work.
Sometimes, it really is okay to take a step back and realize that your kid might not need to be pushed academically.
This past summer, as my son approached his sophomore year, he was eligible to take an AP US History class. Though his marks were slightly below what was required, his teachers recommended him for the rigors of a yearlong college level class. When I discussed the curriculum with his guidance counselor, she told me that he’d be challenged, that he’d have a crushing amount of homework and that he’d likely spend hours a night studying for this class.
It felt like I was revisiting that preschool decision from years ago. With college looming, I worried that if I didn’t push my son into the class, his transcript would suffer.
Somehow, parents have been programmed to believe that harder is better, that crushing amounts of homework and overwhelming stress is a necessary part of the high school experience.
Because I was uncertain, I consulted my friends with older teens who’d taken AP classes. They all confirmed that Advanced Placement classes were an enormous source of stress for their teens.
“But, it will look good on his college application,” they would all conclude.
I wasn’t so sure.
Considering that only 50% of students pass the US History AP exam and only 10% pass with a coveted 5, I wondered why my husband and I would push him to the brink for a class where the odds of receiving college credit were stacked against him.
After much discussion both with my son and his teachers, we decided to let him enroll in the AP US History class (or “APUSH”, as the cool kids call it) with the provision that he’d drop the class within the two-week grace period if he felt he couldn’t handle the rigor.
We are more than halfway through his semester and I regret allowing him to take the class.
I wish I’d listened to my gut and encouraged him to enroll in “just” an Honors class.
I’ve watched as my fifteen-year-old son has stayed up at least four school nights a week until well past 11pm, trying to keep up with the course load.
I’ve watched him spend hours on a weekend cramming for a test filled with terms and concepts that I can barely grasp in the rich detail he’s expected to recall.
I’ve watched as he’s sighed when he has to text friends to say he can’t participate in social events because the weight of his class has forced him to choose studies over the business of being a normal teen.
And, I’ve watched as he’s broken under the pressure some nights, tears in his eyes, exhaustion clouding his emotions and I’ve felt helpless.
I feel guilty for not protecting him from this level of rigor this early on.
He’s only fifteen and this class is breaking him.
And this is on top of his Honors course load, a part in the school play and trying to keep up with Boy Scouts, an activity he loves.
If I had it to do over again, I’d have listened to the voice in my head that kept whispering, “He’s a smart kid, he gets good grades, and lots of other kids take an Honors course load.”
I wish I had listened to the nagging feeling that this AP class won’t count much towards the degree he wants to ultimately pursue in college.
I wish he didn’t have to measure up to some society standard we’ve all agreed on for our teens.
If you are a parent, worried that your smart kid isn’t measuring up, take a deep breath and don’t let another parent make you feel inadequate for making a choice you know is right for your kid.
If you are a mom who is listening to the voice of self-doubt because your friends are telling you that your daughter won’t succeed if she’s not juggling three AP classes, I’m here to tell you to relax and let your kid enjoy high school.
Only you know what’s right for your kid and only you know what your kid can handle.
It’s okay if your kid doesn’t take Advanced Placement classes. It’s not the end of the world if your kid decides that they aren’t ready for the demanding schedule that comes with taking college classes years before their brains are ready.
And, parents, let’s not forget: most of our generation didn’t have AP classes available to the extent that our kids do and we turned out just fine.
We are successful, well-adjusted adults with decent paying jobs and careers.
And, frankly, if you can remember what your grade in high school biology is today, more power to you.
Because my grades and my transcript stopped being relevant in my life the day I graduated from college. A college that I found challenging and that was a competitive institute of higher learning. A college I was accepted to despite not having taken a single AP class.
As my son continues towards graduation, my husband and I will weigh his emotional wellbeing against his academic potential before we allow him to take another AP class.
Because the sight of him at the stroke of midnight on a school night, exhausted with tears in his eyes, as he lashes out in frustration is not how I want to remember his high school years.
And I know he doesn’t want that, either.