Tag Archives: high school

Lost and Found Friendships? Reconnection Not Always Required

summer camp photo

At summer camp, one of my favorite songs was the one where we sang about friendship – you may remember it, too, we promised to stay friends, friends, friends, “we will always be, whether in fair or in dark stormy weather, at Camp (insert name here), we’ll all stay together”?

That doesn’t always happen. Even though Facebook and other social media (this Blog, for example) makes it all too possible for people from our past –  friends from camp, school, our jobs, through our kids, to easily find us and seek us out.

Friend me, please?

Often I say no and then feel bad about it.

This has been on my mind lately as I sometimes turn down these overtures. Not that I am Ms. Popularity or anything (hardly, you’d have to look to my husband, Mr. High School Class President who holds that title) but when people I was once friendly with (which is different from being friends with? Or I am getting overly technical here?) reach out to me on social media, I often don’t want to reach back.

Thinking about this while looking towards September, when we (speaking as a Jewish person here) observe our High Holidays, one of which is Yom Kippur, a day of reflection on the past. Strong friendships, and the caring and cultivation of them, have always been very important to me. So why am I hesitant to re-visit my former social circles?

The holiday also calls upon us to make amends to anyone we may have hurt in the past year. Perhaps some of the people I once knew wonder why I didn’t re-connect when they sought me out?

So here goes:

  • If I once dated you in high school or college or beyond, maybe the reason I’m reluctant to re-connect with you is because I am a different person now. Or I like to think I am a different person. And if we were to re-connect, I will remember bits about myself I didn’t like or experiences we had that I’m not so proud I had. I want to go forward, not backwards in my relationships. Hope you understand.

 

  • Or maybe you and I were pals in our Young Mom days, when our kids had so much in common – and now that they are young adults, they are on very different paths. I don’t want to be reminded of those early days when I thought that my child, who still struggles with mental health, wouldn’t always have those struggles. I liked you very much, Old Mom Friend, and I am glad you and yours are doing well, but it is tough for me to hear your news about you and your possibly perfect young adults. Too hard for me to listen, too many comparisons to make. So no, but thank you, to your friend request.

 

  • Then there are those people I worked with (I’ve only had 3 lawyer jobs in my life, I’m a loyal type.) I hesitate to re-connect because I’m not who I once was. You may know that I had to leave my law firm before I wanted to, before I expected to, because of cardiac-related-infections, complicated. (I’m fine now.) But I’m not quite as snappy and quick in my thinking (interestingly it’s mostly when I talk, less so when I write), as I once was. Can you detect that? I worry that you might be able to notice that the new me isn’t the old me. While I’m fine with my “new normal”, it isn’t what I thought it would be. Perhaps better if you stick with recalling the way I used to be?

***

The irony does not escape me that I am writing about my life on this Blog, in a careful sort of way, or trying to, – and it is open for all to read – while hesitating to re-connect with people who I once knew in real life.

I think there is a distinction. I greatly prize and carefully nurture the many in-person, friendships I have, all of which have gone through significant bouts of both fair and stormy weather. But with online-only friends you have to stay on your best “party manners” at all times. Or at least I feel an obligation to do so. Long-term pals are more likely to accept as you are.

Pouring my energies into preserving my in-real-life friendships feels more important to me than reconnecting with the past. Subject to change, of course, but as this September approaches, I wanted to let you know, in case you wondered, why I haven’t “friended” you back.

 

 

 

 

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Anxious Teens and College Kids? – Don’t Put All The Blame on Parents

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When our son was five or six years old we signed him up, as we did with his older sister, for a recreational league soccer team. Soccer is the Big Saturday Thing to do around here and while he was more of a Lego kid than a ball sports kid, we thought he should at least give soccer a try.

After all my husband was (is) quite the athlete, a nine-letter-man in high school. He hoped his stronger genes would outweigh my total lack of eye-hand coordination.

Hope springs eternal in parenting expectations.

On the first day of soccer practice our son wandered out onto the field and studied the trees and the landscape on the sidelines while the other kids ran around chasing the ball.

At next Saturday’s game, our son’s primary interest was again in the natural world around him. He didn’t seem to notice where the ball was – or indeed that there was a ball on the field.

Before the next Saturday rolled around, I asked him if he was enjoying learning the game of soccer. He admitted that he was not.

Is there anything about soccer that you like? anything at all?”

He replied –  “Yes, I like the orange sections at half-time.”

And that was the end of our son’s brief soccer career. (and the early confirmation of his life-long interest in biology, chemistry and cooking.)

This little life lesson from two decades ago taught me as nothing else has that our kids are not bendable, pre-cooked pretzels who we can shape according to our parental expectations.

So when I read the recent out-pouring of articles on overly-involved parents pushing their teens and college students into directions that their parents think are best for them, no matter what their kids think, I have to ask.

Has parenting changed that much since our son moved off the soccer field?

The cover of a recent New York Times book review featured no less than three books placing blame on parental shoulders:

  • “How to Raise an Adult – Break Free of the Over-Parenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success”
  • “The Prime of Life – A History of Modern Adulthood”
  • “Why Grow Up? – Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age”

Don’t get me wrong, I am the first to agree that “over-parenting” (short-hand for extreme parental interference/guidance a/k/a helicoptering) –  that done by a (I believe, very) small number of parents with “elite only” college admission as a laser-like focus end goal, can and does cause psychological harm to their teens.

But I doubt that parents bear as much blame for college student emotional distress as these authors and the media would have us believe.

“Expectational Anxiety” Has Many Sources.

Teens and young adults breathe in an air of “expectational anxiety” created by multiple sources.

This aura of great expectations can burden all kids; even those with the most independence-encouraging of parents feel its’ weight.

Kids as young as middle school age breathe in the “college is critical” message  – whispered by their eager-beaver classmates, from their high school teachers and counselors who remind them that college is just around the corner so grades really, really matter, they see ads for “get the highest score here” test prep companies, they hear the stories about how hard it is to get into the “right” college and how important it is to go to the best one you can – that college choice will make or break you for the rest of your life!! – from older siblings and friends.

Add in kid savvy about the economy, their awareness that the highest paying jobs are the most coveted, that tuition skyrockets unreasonably each year, and their status at the recipient end of the anxiety-producing mountains of  marketing and promotional materials that colleges and universities distribute with alarming frequency.

Top this all off with the explicit ridiculously high expectations set by college admission offices, the frequent lists and rankings of “top” colleges and purportedly “helpful” college advising websites that frequently use the word “Ivy” in their brand names.

Yes, teens and college students feel the weight of anxiety-producing expectations on their own shoulders, no matter what their parents may say or do – or not say or do.

Therefore a request: Mr. or Ms. Media, can you stop putting the blame so much on parents as a large, undifferentiated group?  Sure, a few parents qualify as micro-managers, helicoptering and over-controlling; these parents must be out there since you write about them so much – – but most parents of teens and college students are not like that – instead they try as hard as they can NOT to pressure their kids, to support them on their way to independent adulthood, to let them make informed choices of their own.

So would you just back off and aim your pointed pen at the many other culprits (see list above) that release this expectational anxiety into the air our kids and college students breathe. Parents do not deserve the blame being heaped on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Going for the ‘Wow” Factor in College Admissions – From 2001 To 2015

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I often think I am a prescient person. Then sometimes I find proof.

While cleaning a long-forgotten shelf this week, I came across an old folder containing copies of my early published essays.  In my lawyering days I wrote occasional freelance essays, satirical or poignant, or both, on subjects that captured my attention as a parent and was thrilled when I saw them in print.

On May 8, 2001 – 14 years ago!! – if you were reading the Washington Post, you would have seen my article on page C4:

 

Going for the ‘Wow’ Factor”

by Nancy L. Wolf – May 8, 2001

“Recently the University of California proposed to eliminate the SAT as a requirement for admission to college. I have another bold proposal to add to the debate on the college admission process: Start mandatory college counseling in the sixth grade.

What I have learned as the parent of a high school junior is that we have waited far too long to prepare our child for the rigors of the college admission process.

We thought we were ahead of the game. We knew she needed high SAT scores, excellent grades, evidence of as many advanced placement or honors-level courses as she could squeeze into a semester, and leadership in extracurricular activities. But apparently that is no longer sufficient. As the parents of juniors were informed at a recent college night at our daughter’s school, our children must also possess some great distinction, a unique talent or accomplishment to offer to their prospective college.

It is, of course, a little late, to develop a “wow” factor when your daughter is already a high school junior.

On the way home from college night, our daughter berated us for not thinking ahead. If only we had signed her up for advanced pottery classes when she was six or taught her how to fly fish when she was eight, she might have been en route to a national ranking or regional award in the talent of her choice. How could we have been so unenlightened as parents not to know to plan ahead for the college admission process.

Take a look at the Web sites of various selective colleges. Sure, they boast of the high SAT scores and grade point averages of their recently admitted classes. But they point with even more pride to the distinctive, unusual and frankly, sometimes odd accomplishments of next fall’s incoming class. Unfortunately our daughter is unable to contribute to this new diversity.

She is not a tiger trainer, nor a commercial fisherman, nor a champion cricket player. She does not milk cows at dawn on our family farm in Nebraska, or host her own cable television show, or regularly swim across the English Channel. She has not been a master junior golfer, has never been awarded a patent for her own invention and did not win a national Hula-Hoop championship. She is, simply put, a terrific kid. How devastating to find out after all these years that this is just not going to be good enough.

One of the speakers at college night was an admission officer at a university proud of its highly selective admissions standards. He shared with us the profile of a recent applicant – a young woman, first in her family to go to college, a nationally ranked pianist, the winner of numerous math awards, the captain of the tennis team, the highest of scores and grades, who had tutored young children in Chinese.

The other parents in the audience at college night were awed at her accomplishments. I could only wonder – when did she have time to floss?

With all that she packed into her day, so busy was she fashioning her pre-college resume, that she barely had time to say hello to her parents, much less to spend an hour of downtime watching MTV. I suppose that when she gets into that highly selective college of her choice, she can learn to floss there.

Yet, the admissions officer was dismissive of her achievements. He told us that she was too “well-rounded”. What his university was looking for was that special something, that oomph that no one else had. That “wow” factor that only admission officers know when they see it.

The stress on our high schoolers is palpable.

These kids worry that they must begin studying analogies for the verbal part of the SAT I well before they even know what an analogy is.  Now added to the anxiety about grades, scores and accelerated classes, they must also devote hours, beginning at a very young age, to development of their “wow” factor. That one singular talent that will help an applicant stand out from the highly qualified crowd.

The speaker at college night was dismissive as well of the accomplishments of another applicant whose admission folder he shared with us, someone he said was a “borderline” candidate, despite his extremely high SAT scores, grades and records of challenging classes. This young man, the admission officer, told us had been the class president, editor of the newspaper and captain of a varsity team. But, he said, his university gets many of these kinds of applicants – too much leadership! – these days. We parents all slumped in our chairs, racking our brains at this late date for that elusive “wow” factor.

Now I see that we have played this all wrong. As parents,  we could have helped give our daughter the “wow” factor she so desperately needs. But unfortunately, my husband is not a senator and I am not a Supreme Court justice. There are no science buildings at any of the colleges we plan to visit that have been endowed by any of our blood relatives. We have nothing to offer our daughter in the way of distinctiveness. We, too, are normal.

So I propose that mandatory pre-college counseling begin in the sixth grade. No wait, perhaps that is too late; first grade would be better. A sign-up sheet can be passed around in every school with “wow” factors to choose from. Each first grader will meet with the college counselor to decide on what “wow” factor will be his or her special area of expertise. Elementary and middle schools would hire special tutors for afternoon “wow” factor classes.

By the time each child gets into high school, that will be one less thing to stress about. Every kid will have his or her own “wow” factor.

But wait, won’t that make it less distinctive if every child has one? There, that will be our daughter’s “wow” factor – she will be the “normal” one! No one has a “normal” for a “wow” factor these days – she’s in!”

 

(post script from May 14, 2015)

Our daughter graduated in 2006 from an amazing liberal arts college which somehow overlooked her lack of a single “wow” factor, and instead had the wisdom to recognize that having a terrific, well-rounded, smart and thoughtful young woman on their campus would be an excellent fit for both of them. Would that be the outcome in 2015? Perhaps not, the college admission process has gotten even more frantic since 2001.  The pressure on teens and college kids to be distinctive, to excel, to be perfect has reached epic proportions. How can we  – as parents – push the pendulum back to the not so far off good ol’ days when being a terrific, well-rounded kid was actually a sought after quality? For the sake of our kids’ mental health, we must take steps to do this.)

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Lessons from an A-Minus Childhood: “Do Your Best” or “Be the Best”?

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If Nancy M., my friend and occasional nemesis in elementary school, is reading this, I hope she is happy and successful.

No doubt she is because she was one of the smartest girls in our grade.

Born one month apart, classmates from kindergarten on, she and I shared a popular-at-the-time, first name (in case you missed it), as well as highly developed verbal abilities (top reading group!) and dark  brown hair. She was Nancy M. and I was Nancy W. We both excelled in spelling bees, english and social studies. Teachers always called on us because they knew we knew the answers. Our Moms were close friends and chatted often. Apparently a frequent topic of their conversation was how their daughters were doing in school.

When I came home after school with a newly graded test or quiz, the first question my Mom would often ask me was:

“What grade did Nancy M. get?”

Forever I was to be compared with Nancy M. And forever I was the one who received the occasional A-minus while Nancy M. dutifully came home with straight A’s.

I’m sure my Mom (who sadly, is no longer here to ask) never intended to create in me the belief that an A-minus was akin to a failing grade. But that is how her frequent question made me feel. I did well academically, but knew that however well I did, there was always someone out there, named Nancy or not, who got the A when I got the A-minus.

The legend of Nancy M. made me more sensitive when I became a Mom. I was determined to raise my kids without that theme of comparative childhoods.

Yet as hard as I tried not to put pressure on my own kids, anxieties about their academic success did cross my mind, even if they didn’t cross my lips.

One of my young adults tells me that I was always measuring his performance against other kids. To hear him tell it, his childhood was filled with stress-inducing, albeit unspoken, parental expectations hovering above him at all times like a cartoon thought bubble.

My other young adult remembers it differently.

I know you and Dad went to top colleges. So I expected I would do the same.” She tells me I didn’t have to say a word to know what was expected of her but that most of the pressure she put on herself was self-driven.

So I started to think during this March Madness a/k/a The College Admission Season:

Is it what we say as parents – or sometimes what we don’t say – that causes our kids to feel that sometimes overwhelming stress to succeed?

Last night I watched a new TV show that my friend Caroline (devoted readers of my Blog may remember her from “Road Trip” fame)  introduced me to. Called “Fresh Off the Boat”, it seems at first glance to be the kind of laugh-a-minute sitcom I usually don’t see. But this one is different, laughs yes, but subtle too, focusing on the immigrant experience, through a Chinese-American family who is trying to fit in without losing their values.

In last night’s episode, the Mom, Jessica Huang, adroitly played by actress Constance Wu, tells her children, as she does everyday:

If you are going to do something, be the best.”

But so well-written is the show that she doesn’t come off as a stereotypical, perfection-demanding, “Tiger Mom.” Instead we understand that the pressure she puts on her kids is because she truly wants them to be happy. And in her mind, being successful = being happy.

That made me examine my own parenting motives.  I always said “Do your best” to my kids before they participated in a spelling bee in elementary school, had a math test in middle school or took the SAT in high school.

But perhaps what my kids really heard was not the explicit “Do your best” –  but the implicit message “Be the best.”?

It is too late now to take back what I said or didn’t say to my own kids. But if yours are still young enough to be somewhere between math quizzes and the SAT – or even more importantly if they are looking at or are in college now – – the lesson here is that even if we don’t say it aloud our kids still hear the – do well! – succeed! – be the best! – pressure-inducing messages loud and clear.

And stress, teens and college students are an increasingly combustible mental health mix.

From a Mom who knows, please let them do their best without worrying that they must always be the best. Even if Jessica Huang feels differently.

 

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My Wonderful Senior Year in High School. NOT. (It got better in College.)

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In high school I was that girl who was attractive enough to date the captains of the basketball and football teams (not at the same time, of course) while smart enough to be in the top honors classes. Being attractive and smart was not a good combination in 1970.  The pretty girls thought I was not cool enough to be friends with – and the smart girls thought I was too cool to be friends with. Neither fish nor fowl, I thought I was a solo specie.

By September of my senior year I could not wait for high school to be over.  Perhaps there are still girls out there like I was, nice-looking but not popular, smart but sensitive, sitting in their bedrooms writing poetry, and working on their college applications; hoping that once they reach college, they will finally find a community that fits who they are.

That is what happened to me.

My parents wanted me to go to the same college my mother had gone to – Smith College -a highly-regarded women’s college in Massachusetts. My Mom loved her time at Smith, still had many of her college friends, and happily returned every five years, dressed all in white to march in the campus reunion parade.

A women’s college? I didn’t think so. Let’s not beat around the bush here, I liked to date guys. And yes, I had a thing for athletes who happened to be smart. Maybe because I completely lacked athletic ability (always was, still am, the last to be picked for any team) so dating an athlete was the closest I could come to peer acceptance in my sports-obsessed high school where cheerleaders ruled the popularity pyramid.

The boys I dated did very well in school, too, but somehow their intelligence wasn’t seen as a social handicap as it was, at least then, for girls. We were advised by the teen magazines to hide our smarts if we wanted to keep a boyfriend. So I wrote the requisite soulful poetry holed up in my bedroom but showed it to no one; I would not have dreamed to show it to one of my boyfriends.

I applied to Smith, as I was asked to do by the parental unit but put my hopes on my applications to five other coed schools. Come April 15th, our mailbox was filled with four thick envelopes and two thin ones. The thickest one was from Smith and the thinnest one was from my first choice – a top men’s college on the cusp of its first year of co-education, telling me I was not going to be in their entering class. My parents insisted that Smith offered the best academics, and wasn’t that why I was going to college?

So off I was to a women’s college. Yes, I grudgingly admitted, the extensive course catalogue did impress me. And how hard could it be to find boys to date? I read that they regularly showed up in droves on weekends.

And surely I would find girls in my class who were attractive as well as smart and not afraid to show it to each other –  or to the boys they dated. My mother reassured me on that point too.

On the second night of college, I went with a small group of girls from my dorm, all of us new to Smith and to each other, to walk down the hill to see a movie called “Anne of A Thousand Days.” It was a British historical drama about Anne Boleyn, the wife, briefly, of King Henry the 8th, until she failed to produce a male heir to the throne and was subsequently executed. I was a big fan of British history so loved the epic story of politics, religion and romance.  My kind of thought-provoking movie; one that I never would have even suggested seeing with friends in high school.

After the movie ended, we started to walk back up the hill to campus. I waited, then said, a bit tentatively, to the girl walking next to me, “Didn’t you think that was an amazing movie?”

She quickly responded, “Oh yes, but I wonder if it was all historically accurate. Do you think the meeting between Anne and King Henry shortly before her execution really happened?

We talked about historical accuracy versus the need to make a movie appealing to the masses all the way back to the dorm. Wow, I thought, maybe I could really be my true self here in college.

High school has evolved since I was a student but some things stay the same; the athletes are still popular, the pretty girls are in demand and the smart kids join the debate team. While being a female with a good brain is no longer as uncool as it once was, I am sure that there are still many girls, and boys, who like I was, are on the social fringe, for whatever reason, afraid to really be themselves for fear their peers won’t accept them.

Let me reassure you that things do re-sort themselves once you get to college. It happened that way for me; it can happen that way for you, too.

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