Why are teens stressed and worried at a time of their lives that should be happy and carefree?

It’s the million billion dollar question. How did we get to a point where some teens are so hyper-competitive that giving them a “B” on a paper or quiz, is like giving them an “F”? Why do some teens now overload themselves with advanced placement courses and extracurriculars, just to stay up past midnight cramming in homework?

Dr. Cathy Vatterott is an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and she’s been researching and writing about homework for more than 20 years. She believes much of our teens’ excessive workloads and goals of “perfectionism” is caused by a desire to get into Ivy League Universities.

“We as a culture, especially in highly- affluent communities, have bought into an idea, that if you don’t get into one of these 10 colleges, you’re going to be a failure, says Vatterott. “They’ve made this an incredibly high-stakes game for kids.”

What should teens be doing?

Vatterott who recently published “The Teens are not Alright,” says teens should be

–  Experience learning as joyful and exciting.

–  Read for pleasure.

–  Play a game where winning doesn’t matter.

–  Figure out who they are and what they value.

–  Fall in love, not with a person, but with a passion.

–  Discover not what the world can do for them, but what they can do for the world.

–  Reflect, wonder, and dream.

What can schools do to help?

Vatterott helps coach educators on what they can do to help teens strike a balance and she says changing up homework assignments can have a huge impact.

While she is not a proponent for eliminating homework entirely, she does believe schools should reduce homework and make sure that what’s going home is meaningful.

“We don’t prepare kids to do five hours of homework in college by giving them five hours of homework in high school. The way we prepare kids is to teach them the skills that we need to actually be able to handle the work,” says Vatterott. “It’s not about time. Time is not the metric.”

She also suggests that schools should coordinate the workload across classes and switch to a modified block schedule with fewer but longer classes each day.

To hear our full interview with Cathy Vatterott, listen to  Episode 102 of the Class Dismissed Podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app.

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