Q & A with Denise Pope: Managing Your Child's Academic Stress

denisepopeIn her anticipated ParentMap lecture "The Resilient Student: Finding Balance in Today's Culture of Competition" March 14 at Town Hall Seattle, Denise Pope, Ph.D., will arm parents with research and tools to help reduce their kids' stress without sacrificing academic achievement. Here Pope gives us an introduction to what families and students face in today's culture of competition. We invite you to join us March 14 to learn more.

Q: What causes academic stress in children and teens?

A: Students under academic stress often have too much work to do and too little time in which to do it. They are over-scheduled in school with too many classes and out of school with too many extracurricular activities.

They feel pressure from their parents to get high grades and test scores that will make them eligible for selective colleges.

They feel pressure from their peers to compete, to keep up with and even outdo each other in terms of grades and participation in extracurricular activities.

And, they feel pressure because they know that more students than ever are applying to colleges and that approximately 80 percent of the college-bound students are applying to the same small number (about 20 percent) of selective schools.

Q: Does academic stress interfere with a child’s ability to learn?

A: Many stressed students are engaged in so many extracurricular activities, sports, tutoring, etc., that they have no time to reflect on what they are learning/doing.

Many admit that they are simply “doing school” — not engaging in depth with the material, or even enjoying the activities they do.

And we know through studies that over-scheduled, stressed-out kids are less innovative than those who grew up with unstructured free time to play, make mistakes and tinker around.

Q: How can we help our kids to manage their academic stress?

A: Look at your child’s schedule. Are they taking courses they want to take? Do they have enough time to play, relax, hang out with friends?

Are they involved in extracurricular activities for the right reasons — not just to pad the résumé or to please mom and dad?

Even if your teen loves everything they are doing, they might need to cut down for their health and in order to enjoy their youth.

Also, sit down with your family — discuss with your kids what it means to be a success. Not just as a student, but in life. Ask them what they want out of their education. Ask them how they want to spend their time.

Send your kids the message that success takes many, many forms.

Q: Why do you think it is so important to define success with our academically focused kids?

A: Students honestly believe that the better the college they go to, the better off they will be in life. This is a misconception that needs to be debunked.

We have studies that show that you can go to over 100 different schools — some folks say over 200 — and get an excellent education and have very little variation in income 20 years later from the graduates of Ivy League universities.

College acceptance is not a “trophy.” I want students and families to believe that they need to find the best match between school and student — not the place with the most prestigious reputation.

Denise Clark Pope is a senior lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, and the author of Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, named as a Notable Book in Education by the American School Board Journal in 2001.  Dr. Pope was also a featured expert in the acclaimed documentary, Race To Nowhere.

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