Our children are constantly measured against arbitrary benchmarks of where they “should be” compared to their peers and abstract curriculum frameworks.
The truth is, these benchmarks are theoretical and, in most cases, arbitrary. They are determined by a small group of people who decide what kids should be learning and when. Despite the political and academic chest thumping about student achievement statistics, the entire system is built on weak research and no evidence that pushing students to complete more difficult work at younger ages leads to any difference in “success” later in life.
In fact, the opposite phenomenon occurs. Children and teens who are pushed up the academic ladder before they are brain-ready end up becoming extremely stressed and develop anxiety and depression. The race to the top is more often an unhealthy pressure cooker no young person needs or will benefit from.
When parents come to my office with concerns about their child’s academic progress i always state, “There is no rush here.”
Just like children develop physically at their own pace, so too does their brain and cognitive development. Some 13 year olds look like young adults, while others still look like children. And some 13 year olds can easily do pre-algebra, while others are still working on understanding math basics. Neither developmental course is “right” or “wrong.” Cognitive development is what it is. It cannot be artificially rushed, just like we can’t determine when our kids with have a physical growth spurt, we can’t predict or force when they will have a cognitive growth spurt as well.
Your child will grasp cognitive concepts when their brain is ready. It may not be on the same time line as everyone else. Also,they may have cognitive strengths that aren’t measured in the standard academic curriculum. Our clients are often gifted artists, athletes, musicians or social butterflies.
But what about college?
As a professional who works with young people from kindergarten through college, I can tell you this–there is NO RUSH to getting college out of the way and over with. In fact, for many students, taking a year or two off to work, travel, volunteer and figure out their path may be better than rushing into an expensive college investment that they may not be ready for.
If your student does go to college right after graduation and doesn’t have classes they need to enroll in a particular major or graduate on time, there are many ways they can get caught up–summer classes, winter terms, online courses, etc.
In fact, your child may not benefit from a traditional college experience. They may thrive in a vocational training program or an apprenticeship.
I know it’s hard to fight the tide of anxiety and perfectionism that comes along with our academic culture of measurement and rush to achievement. Just know, that dynamic isn’t healthy, doesn’t support kids to do any better, and that there are many positive alternatives to lifelong success.