The Five Ordeals That Smart Teens Face at School

[This post is excerpted from Why Smart Teens Hurt. To learn more, please take a look!]

Compulsory education is a year-in, year-out reality for much of the world’s children. Hardly any child experiences school as an unmitigated joy and many experience it as an ordeal. Why an ordeal? Let’s take a glancing look at five of these ordeals: exams, school spirit, boredom, homework, and romances.

Formal education comes with testing. It might be a rope-climbing test in gym class, an essay test in English class, a vocabulary quiz in Spanish class, a final project in shop class, or a state-mandated multiple-choice test meant to gauge your grade level. The tests just keep coming. Most smart teens will feel obliged to treat them as if they matter, because they want good grades so that they can go on to a good college. And, when something matters, that raises our anxiety level. A test for a C student may mean nothing more than “another C coming” and not cause him to even raise an eyebrow. A test for someone who needs all A’s is an event on his anxiety calendar.

Then there’s school spirit. The same fervor that makes for football riots, as the supporters of rival teams clash “just because,” and that makes for wars, creates a school atmosphere that a smart teen is likely to hate, one that she may try to avoid at all costs. These pumped-up rivalries between her school and some other school are unlikely to strike her as innocent fun, because she knows, even without studying history, where pitting one group against another group leads. She may go to the Friday night basketball game, because everyone does, and she may even get caught up in the moment and cheer, but when she hears the team’s star guard explain that God helped them to victory, she will cringe. She knows that school spirit is a form of jingoistic posturing and at root a kind of hatred. For her, pep rallies may well fall into the category of ordeal.

Then there’s the ordeal of boredom. Most classes are boring. We are not built for hour upon hour of boredom but we learn to cope, letting our mind wander, doodling, half-listening and half-dozing, secretly working on our novel, or, as one famous actor put it when describing how bored he was in school, by “drinking ink.” A smart teen is likely to be especially bored and maybe excruciatingly bored as her math teacher goes over elementary material for the tenth time, for the sake of the students who haven’t grasped that material yet. Isn’t something mischievous, impulsive, and maybe even dangerous brewing during all those hours of boredom? Boredom is both an ordeal and a danger, as a bored mind almost can’t help but dream up some misadventure.

A fourth ordeal is homework. School does not end at three p.m. A teen is obliged to write papers, study for exams, work on joint projects, and all the rest, each subject matter teacher piling on his or her homework, oblivious to what that accumulated pile might look like or feel like. This would matter less if one could just blow it all off and do the minimum, as any C student just waiting to turn sixteen and get the heck out of there might do. No, a smart teen is obliged to take these assignments seriously, because she wants and needs the grades. She must contain her trickster impulse to write a sarcastic paper for English and must write a serious one instead. She must do what she knows to do to get her A—and then deal with her headache.

A fifth ordeal is so combustible as to be explosive. That’s the hothouse ordeal of sexual attraction, sexual fantasies, school romances, the shifting of sentiments where you like her but she likes him so you hate her but now she says a nice thing to you so now you love her but now she’s ignoring you again, and the shifting of partners, where everyone is everyone else’s boyfriend or girlfriend for a day. Being smart provides absolutely no immunity against this hormonal chaos.


For parents

It is fine to say to your teen as she leaves for school, “Have a nice day!” But be aware of what her days may be feeling like to her. Just as your days at work are anything but easy, with quotas to meet, complaints to handle, bottom line concerns to address, and all the rest—causing an estimated 75% of all workers to hate their jobs—your smart teen’s day at school is likely anything but easy, either. And then comes homework.

If you can, share a laugh. You are each facing your secret ordeals, all of those things that you don’t want to talk about with each other. But see if you can share a show, a laugh, a bowl of popcorn, a something. See if you can carve out a no-ordeal hour for the two of you. That might make more of a positive difference than you can possibly imagine, and for both of you.


For teens

Tests. Crushes. Team spirit. Boredom. Homework. What a life! Even as these and the many other ordeals we’ve discussed come at you, keep returning to your belief in yourself, your commitment to making good choices, your wisdom that “this too shall pass,” and your vision of a bright future, where you get to think, create, love, and a live a life of purpose. The danger is that these ordeals will wear you down and make you sick, emotionally and physically. Be as careful as you can be and let these felt pressures wash away with each hot shower you take. See if you can turn “ordeal” into “no big deal.” If you could, that would be splendid!


[This post is excerpted from Why Smart Teens Hurt. To learn more, please take a look!]

iStock image

The post The Five Ordeals That Smart Teens Face at School appeared first on The Good Men Project.