Of the 14.9 million high school students in the nation, the majority of them will hear the same message over and over again: They should devote their time and energy to their high school education, so they can go to a good college. But are there important life skills that school just can’t teach no matter how good the curriculum is?
While a high school and college education are important, many students are lacking crucial skills that actually help them become better students in the long run.
Managing stress to avoid burnout
The world today is filled with overloads. Drinks, fries and hamburgers come in “super-size” portions, music is loud and the freeways are packed with traffic. More and more teenagers are finding their lives overloaded with sports, extracurricular activities, tests, essays, homework and the usual hassle of being a teenager.
Many of these students are piling on more and more responsibilities on themselves in an attempt to appear successful. And although a perfect 4.0 G.P.A. along with several hundred hours of community service looks great on a college application, trying to manage too much at once can lead to too much stress.
In small doses, stress can actually be a good thing as it encourages students to work harder and teaches them how to work under pressure. But when stress becomes chronic, it is no longer helpful. Chronic stress can lower the immune system, exacerbate cardiovascular or respiratory issues and lead to anxiety or depression.
Colleges are finding that students are disengaging from their studies or dropping out, after taking on too much work and burning out. The problem appears to start in high school when students are faced with the pressures of “looking good” on college applications.
“There’s this perceived notion out there that for [someone] to be a success [they] have to go to one of these big name schools like UCLA,” Foothill counselor Steve Boyd said, “[…] there’s a perception that if [they] don’t go to UCLA they won’t be a success and that’s wrong,”
It is important for students to learn to identify what triggers their stress and how best to deal with it. A counselor or another trained professional can provide some coping mechanisms and ideas on how to lower a student’s stress level. Things such as exercise and meditation are often considered healthy ways to cope along with practicing good sleep habits.
“I feel that the best thing that a student can do when they are stressed out is do something that they love whether it be running, taking a walk, listening to music, dancing, talking to a confined friend, or just breathing fresh air,” Foothill counselor Debbie Freeman said.
The trouble is not that the student is taking three or four AP classes along with music lessons and playing a sport; it’s that they don’t know how to handle that stress that goes along with it. Managing stress isn’t something that can be taught in a classroom setting, simply because it relies solely on the individual.
How to learn from failure
Failure is an inevitable part of life and one that schools often ignore. For good reason, schools are aimed at producing successful, hardworking students. In order to achieve that, failure is necessary once in a while.
In this day and age, failure is becoming more and more mainstream. There are countless books on the market designed to help the reader take control of their failure and use it for success. Studies have shown that the kindergartener who take several tries to learn to read gains more out of it than the kindergartener who figured it out on the first try.
While success feels good, failure is a far better teaching tool. Learning how to bounce back from failure (especially in front of other people) helps develop leadership skills and persistence. Personal failures teach people to be more empathetic and patient towards the mistakes of others.
“As human beings, life is about learning life’s lessons. We are not always successful in our endeavors and we learn from our failures that it is OK to not succeed every single time. We are only human, and make mistakes in life and errors,” Foothill counselor Debbie Freeman said.
There is nothing wrong with success or with being rewarded for a job well done, but a string of constant successes with no mistakes to temper it can create complacence. It sets the individual up for even greater failure in the future, simply because they don’t know how to deal with failure.
“When we do fail, we still are the same person and the sun still shines the next morning, and as, hopefully, people forgive us for our mistakes, we are able to forgive ourselves,” Freeman said.
Individuals who have experienced failures are more likely not succeed in the business world- not necessarily because they are smarter or have better ideas, but because failure does not cripple them in the same way.
However, not all failure is equal. A failed math test, because the student decided to not pay attention in class and didn’t study is far different from the failed math test of the student who studied hard, took good notes and asked questions, but just didn’t understand the material.
“You should always learn from failure,” Foothill counselor Steve Boyd said, “don’t take it as a personal attack. Just learn what you did wrong and don’t make that mistake again,”
It is important to be able to recognize what role different factors played into a success or failure. Being able to admit to a failure is, in essence a way to make it a success.
Setting and achieving goals
Nearly everyone has heard the cliché that no one keeps their New Year’s resolutions. Statistics show that about 45 percent of Americans set resolutions in the new year and only 8 percent actually managed to keep them, but learning to set and maintain goals is actually a beneficial tool in learning to have better time management and how to break down large amounts of work into manageable pieces.
“I think that the best advice […] is to not hide in a corner or under a blanket and cower, but as difficult as it might be, to kick yourself in the rear and make yourself get out there,” Freeman said.
In children and teenagers, goal setting has been shown to create a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. Having achievable goals that will directly impact their life helps to motivate them to take responsibility for their personal success. By having goals with a tangible effect on their lives, they are far more likely to continue working toward that goal.
Long-term goals, such as aspiring to start a business one day, can seem like a daunting task, but having long-term goals helps to teach students to break things down into smaller, more achievable pieces. Creating these “benchmarks” help to ensure success and teach skills that are helpful when completing a big project for work for school later on.
Establishing personal goals also increases motivation. The more goals a student reaches, the more likely they are to set more goals and the higher they will push their own limits. This in turn increases self-confidence and helps students feel as if they have more control over their lives.
“If you have a goal, write it down, post it somewhere in your room you’ll see it a couple of times a day, so you don’t forget about it. Be conscious of it and just try to work on it,” Boyd said.