How many of us have started sentences with, “When I was a kid..”? I have. Many times. When I was actually a kid, studying at The University of Colorado at Boulder, I had a lot of fun. And I had some incredible professors. I met administrators that literally changed the trajectory of my life. I met students who introduced me to new and interesting and challenging cultures and experiences. I joined clubs, went to football games, worked at Norlin Library and somehow wedged myself into a job working with student government. I was a first generation college student and I think I squeezed out every possible opportunity and experience I could. And even though I have some regrets about classes taken, not taken, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Honestly I can say this, because I know we don’t have time machines. Oh, and I made mistakes. Big, fat, hairy, juicy mistakes.
But, something has changed. We know from data collected, that students are more stressed than ever. Incidents of suicide and reports of anxiety, depression and self-medicating are much higher than “when I was a kid”. And although we can pull apart the data and point fingers all around us, I think it’s far more interesting to be of service.
When my first child started preschool, us parents had to read and sign a (paper!) parent handbook. The one piece I remember the most (besides what were appropriate snacks and what were not) was a passage about the importance of being kind to other people’s kids. It said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that it wasn’t enough to like your own kid and to be nice to your own kid. That you needed to be good to everyone’s kids. I’m fairly sure I bristled at that part but took it to heart and made it my mission to say hi to kids. To ask about their day. As my kids (now there are three) got older and started school, I made a point and still do, to say “hi” to kids in the hall. Even as my own kids roll their eyes. Nine years ago, I became a high school mountain bike coach and quickly affirmed that I LOVE KIDS. And not just the ones that live in my house.
And now, I look around, I read the reports, listen to the podcasts, that talk about how stressed the kids are. The pressures and the messaging about needing to be extraordinary and perfect and always on brand and I think, this can’t be right. Yes, college is expensive and hard to get into and yes, everyone needs to get a job at some point. Some will have loans to repay and some will head to graduate school. All students need to stay focused and determined. Of course! But college is for expanding horizons. For figuring out who you are (once you get away from your parents who like to tell you who are). It’s for maybe accepting that you’re not a historian but maybe a linguist or an engineer.
Yes. It’s expensive. Stakes are high. It’s a lot. But none of it is worth it if the student has stopped going to classes because they’re depressed. It’s not worth it if the student is binge drinking Thursday-Saturday just to deal with it. None of it matters if they’re taking their friend’s prescription drugs to stay awake all night to study. Yes, the stakes are high. But perhaps they’re higher than we know.
I think when we think, “when I was a kid”, we forget all the people along the way that supported us. That helped us and encouraged us or gave us a second chance. And perhaps we didn’t really pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.