There are signs the pendulum is swinging back to its center point. Studies show that millennials choose work-life balance as their top priority, even if that means taking a lower salary to achieve it. Perhaps this trend is motivated by the over-scheduled, hectic pace of life that they experienced in their childhood and teen years. A recent Grown & Flown blog post, Why Average American Teens Are Exhausted and Burnt Out, provides some useful insights into why millennials might be seeking this balance:
6 a.m. to midnight. Those are the “working” hours a typical high schooler is keeping these days…Then it’s a full day of academics until around 3, followed by afternoon hours filled with a large variety of activities…Finally, it’s back home again, but the “work” doesn’t stop when they get there. Ironically, it’s probably just begun. Carrying any type of honors, AP, IB, or dual enrollment class means hours of homework late into the night…And then they do it all over again about six hours later…These are the days of regular, real high school students.
Child labor laws were put in place to protect children from overwork, but time spent at school is not considered work. Our society considers it a necessary tradeoff for their future career and ability to earn money. Yet, we see that they are not choosing this priority once they grow up and are, in fact, willing to sacrifice earnings for “a life”. They recognize that a fulfilling life depends upon a multitude of factors: good health, significant others, friends, family, spirituality, fun/recreation and personal growth. All are important to well-being and require the investment of time.
The meaning of being educated has become synonymous with schooling, but schooling and education are not the same things. Education doesn’t just come from a textbook, it happens in our homes and communities, too. It happens through interactions with different people, places, and things. The school environment can only provide so much education, and yet our culture relies on teachers and administrators to provide students with the skills needed to become healthy and competent adults. Have we turned over too much?
While school once occupied only a portion of our lives, its reach now extends into our homes, dictating how we must spend our time and negatively impacting the quality of our interactions. This is even more difficult for parents who work long hours or have multiple jobs and must use the time they have with their children to keep them on task.
It turns out that the lessons learned from engaging with others, primarily in the home, is the cornerstone of their future work success. In a recent interview with LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, he discusses the skill most lacking in job applicants:
“Not surprisingly, there continues to be an imbalance with regards to software engineering. But somewhat surprisingly, interpersonal skills is where we’re seeing the biggest imbalance. Communications is the No. 1 skill gap.”
Communication is learned through interaction with others. Our schools teach content, not connection. Many teachers and administrators are acutely aware of the need to correct this system. Responding to the suicide of a local teenager, Patrick Turner, Principal Sean Boulton of Newport Harbor High School summed up our current situation:
Our teachers and District have simply created and maintained a system that our community/country has demanded from us over the past 20 years since college admissions mania went into hyperdrive since vocational training programs were dismantled, and since earning “As” in AP classes became the norm. Our teachers feel the pressure, administration and counseling feel the pressure, and now parents/students are really feeling the pressures.
While we all are affected by the system’s control over our lives, we tend to look for someone else to solve it. Parents point fingers at the teachers and schools. Schools blame the demands of parents, colleges, and governmental policies. Districts and lawmakers hold administrators and teachers accountable for ineffective policies and so on. No one wins; least of all, our children.
We have all contributed to the dominance of the standardized, one-size-fits-all system in our lives and we can all play a part in changing it. As parents, we can advocate for our home time to be ours, starting with homework and then reevaluating class schedules (restricting or eliminating APs), club sports, tutoring, ACT/SAT test prep and other extracurricular activities.
It is critical that we look for ways to gain time to nurture other aspects of our children’s lives. Regardless of all the evidence showing the ineffectiveness of large of amounts of homework and its negative impacts on sleep and stress, we continue to prioritize school work at home. It is important to educate ourselves on its value in terms of time spent, particularly since “soft skills” are now the most highly sought after in today’s job market.
There is no white knight coming to our rescue. Each of us, within our homes and based on the uniqueness of our children, must look at how we can best use the time outside of school. The overemphasis on school work in our homes is limiting our children’s ability to experience the fullness of a meaningful life. Further, the external measures of aptitude and narrow academic curriculum are not preparing them for the future they are about to enter into this new economy. For the health and well-being of our children, let’s respectfully advocate for a rebalance of school and home time. Let’s model the life we would want them to have “someday”, today.