Harry Remer: Supports lightening load of students

Tuesday, July 04, 2017
Supports lightening load of students

As a psychotherapist practicing in Amherst center, I work with grade school, middle school and high school students quite a lot.

As such, I’m grateful to Jim Oldham for his column of June 16, “Lighten the load of students.” Oldham is right that students in the area suffer stress from an undue burden of school work, testing and after-school activities. Teens who come to me are often so anxious and exhausted they suffer physical symptoms and panic attacks just thinking about their school assignments.

But the reasons for these afflictions go beyond the broken system Oldham accurately describes. The academic culture in much of the Pioneer Valley is very high-pressure. Worried, well-meaning parents expect their children (consciously or not) to get the highest grades. It’s gotten to the point where my ninth-grade clients are already worried sick about whether they’ll be accepted to a high-profile college.

The culture in school is also demanding. Students who have even a bit of trouble keeping up look around at all their high-achieving friends, and see themselves as incompetent by comparison. What they don’t know is, everyone is struggling.

When a client is down about academics or the future, I often ask the parents to do some hard thinking about significantly easing the pressure. Could they tolerate the worst-case scenario — lower grades, or even failing a class? (Hint: they can, but they might need help.)

Once expectations are more in line with the student’s real strengths and weaknesses, they can more easily reach goals — possibly even exceed them, now that the choice is theirs. Eventually, they grow into a confident young adult, whether with a high school, community college, or Ivy League degree.

Parents are generally very happy with that outcome — understandably.

Harry Remer


The writer is a licensed mental health counselor.