To What End?
"To what end?" It's a question that I find myself asking more and more these days. Perhaps it's a product of my age, over 28 years in practice (yikes), or response to seeing so many pandemic-exhausted children and teens. Many young people are over-scheduled and exhausted, then rely on "unwinding" in front of screens that, deceptively, keep their brains and body in an almost constant state of stress. Anyone reading this likely already knows my stance on screen time, but what about extracurricular or advanced-curricular activities? Well, it's complicated. Whether it's registering for an AP class, signing up for a multitude of clubs and sports, or taking a part time job, I think it's essential to ask, "To what end?" Is there an AP class that will be challenging but fascinating for your high schooler? Do they dream at night of playing basketball and lacrosse? Perhaps the robotics club requires a great deal of commitment but puts a fire in your child's belly and brings them together with friends. Then, by all mean, I say, "Go for it!" But when I ask, "To what end?" sometimes the responses indicate the fostering of mindset that is achievement oriented at all costs, an endless race towards a finish line that never appears. Some parents will want to have me help their son or daughter agree to take AP classes, despite their already high stress level. This is often followed by something like this:
Me:"O.K., so you want your child to take AP classes, tell me, to what end?".
Parent: "Well, he needs those classes to get into a good college and to be able to go in with some college credits already completed."
Me: "To what end?"
Parent: "If he gets into a good college with credits under his belt, he can finish early."
Me: "To what end?"
Parent: (confused and probably a bit annoyed) "College is a competitive process, I only want the best for him. He has so much potential!"
And thus begins the real conversation. What is the "best" for our children? How do we define "potential"? If we view happiness as the best lives our children can have, then we should acknowledge what science tells us leads to happiness. Research shows that connection to others (family, friends, and community) is the number one way to live a happy, healthy and long life. Connection to nature, exercise, laughter, a sense of purpose, creativity and doing things for others are also top on the list. The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying, “Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
I think it's our responsibility as parents to help our children plan for the future but also live in the present and foster balanced lives. Try to start asking yourself and your child, "To what end?" Maybe the AP Physics class will give your child a leg up as they consider their college options, but if the hours of studying and the stress that comes with it is unbearable for them, perhaps embracing a slightly different approach is not only smart, but wise.