This is the time of year when kids go back to school and parents post fabulous Facebook photos of their children in front of the house or at the bus stop. I’ve posted these photos before as well. But this year I didn’t.
Ethan, my oldest son, started his junior year of college and moved into his first apartment off campus. I opted to let him mark the transition without a lot of fanfare. And, Noah, a high school senior, is choosing not to complete 12th grade in the traditional way.
He’s not going back to high school.
This wasn’t an easy decision but it’s what he wanted to do. I didn’t feel a photo was appropriate for him either. For Noah, this year is a big deal – photo or no photo – and besides not joining his friends at high school, he may not apply to college. Noah is a trainee at Boston Ballet. It’s a two-year program, although many of the dancers leave at the end of this year to join professional ballet companies around the world. It’s a huge stepping stone for Noah and he was confronted with an important choice: College or a ballet career? He is leaning toward ballet.
While Noah makes his decision, I sit here day after day tossing away college application invitations from the likes of UCLA and USC on the West Coast to Northeast powerhouses like Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton. Each time an application invitation arrives, I show it to Noah. With a knowing look, I toss them in the trash (a few I save just for the memories). It’s a look of:
“You’ve worked hard, achieved academic success and now it’s time to follow your passion.”
Face to Face with Parent Choices
Once upon a time I was a young mother and made the choice to move to a town with a high-ranked public school system – the same choice countless parents make all over the nation. Would I do it all over again? Maybe. But if I knew then what I know now, I may have stayed where I was as my children both had passion and drive. They would have excelled ANYWHERE. Instead, the academic environment in our high school is intense. You’re probably familiar with this story in many high schools: Kids study hours upon hours to get the best grades, take as many AP courses as possible and even cheat their way to the top – all to get into the best colleges so they can basically repeat this cycle all over again. I get it: It’s a dog eat dog world out there. But through my own children, I know this isn’t necessary, nor is it the only way to succeed in your career or life. There are other choices, albeit not as conventional.
Noah, you see, chose to stay in high school for his junior year and excelled in all of his honors and AP courses. And now that he’s top-ranked in his top-ranked high school, he may be setting aside a college degree to pursue his passion: Ballet. Some would say he worked hard in high school for nothing. But I say: He worked hard for the right reasons and not because his parents pushed him. Or because he felt peer pressure. Or because he had to get these grades so he could get into the best college.
He did it for himself. And it makes the whole high school experience that much better.
Now, some parents have said to me:
“Really, he may not go to college? What about all he achieved in high school? Are you sure that’s a wise move?” My answers: #1: “Yup, he may not go to college.” #2: “He worked hard to learn.” #3: “Following your passion and pouring that same academic drive into your dream career is the wisest thing any high school teen can possibly do.”
That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes think:
“Should he just fill out a few college applications and see what happens?”
But I know that this is parental peer pressure kicking in. This is what kids usually do at this age. It’s also what raising children in a highly competitive academic environment does. It points kids and parents in one direction: This way to college.
I would perhaps feel differently about my son if he had no other plans for the foreseeable future. But this isn’t the case. And this leads me to consider how stressful the high school environment is for teenagers today. In fact, kids are so busy jockeying to get into the best colleges that many don’t have time to pursue a passion. I realize this is just my opinion, but based on what I saw happening with my kids’ friends, many teenagers cram in as many activities as they can as this makes them seem well-rounded (and of course there are about 10 spots on the Common Application to list activities and who wants to leave blanks?) In many cases, going straight to college is the right answer. But not always. What would happen if every one of these kids decided to follow ONE passion wholeheartedly while in high school? I don’t know the answer to this but it might make the high school years less stressful and more enjoyable. It might also create new pathways and opportunities.
This is the Time
So, as this back-to-school season kicks into high gear, I invite you all to consider the potential your children have and help them discover their passions. This might change their course entirely. It might not. But, leaving the door wide open will allow your teenager to cross the threshold on his own and discover what’s on the other side.
About the author: Robyn Parets is a personal finance and business writer based in Boston. A former writer for Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) and NerdWallet, Robyn is also the founder and owner of Pretzel Kids®, a children’s fitness brand and online training course. You can find her on Twitter @RobynParets, follow her musings at Away From Om, or reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org