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Too Busy for Success.... pitfalls to watch out for in homeschooling our teens!
Jeannette Webb, 2/29/2012

Editor's Note from Susan Richman: We loved having Jeannette Webb, from Oklahoma, as our Keynote Speaker at last summer's 2011 PHAA High School at Home Conference-- her down-to-earth wisdom has been gleaned from helping both her own two homeschooled teens get into their top-choice colleges and from her current work as a nationwide consultant to homeschoolers applying to college. She is the founder of Aiming Higher Consultants, a high school planning and college consulting firm dedicated to helping homeschooled students reach their potential and successfully apply to their dream colleges.  Learn more at www.aiminghigherconsultants.com. As parents and students are now starting to plan for the coming school year (already!), and especially as registration for our AP Online courses (which Jeannette's own teens took part in) is now open, her message is especially timely. Learn to not 'over-do'-- and you'll all be much happier for it! 

As a high school counselor and college consultant, I see it every week, sometimes every day.  As a woman, I see it constantly in the lives of those who cross my path.  And it is as painful as it is pointless.  There is such a high price to living this way and it can cost us our health, our family cohesiveness, and on a more minor scale, admission to the college of your student’s dreams.

The thing I’m talking about is a culture addicted to busy-ness.  This social disease takes many forms.  We call it distraction in our kids and multitasking if we are engaging in it ourselves.  It is the state of never being fully present.  It is akin to having an umbilical cord to whatever it is that gives you a high – iPhone texting, Facebook messaging, computer surfing, overfull class schedules, a gazillion church committees, a long list of homeschool group responsibilities, too many volunteer assignments.  The list is endless.

Too much of anything, even good things, fractures our concentration so we do nothing well.  It dilutes our days to the point that all the little minor things keep us from ever doing anything major.

Here’s the interesting thing.  We labor under the false assumption, as ambitious parents (you may substitute “concerned” if that feels better), that our kids need a jam-packed activity schedule to impress a good college or qualify for a significant scholarship.  We have been mistakenly informed that we must submerge our student in a killer academic line up.  To be sure, you need quality activities and a rigorous academic profile to do well in competitive college admissions.  However, I’m here to tell you that overkill is deadly.

Good colleges are not looking for well-rounded students.  They are interested in making up a well-rounded class of diverse and interesting students.  Please notice the word interesting.  Interesting happens when a student has time and space to explore.  I’m not talking about having time to fritter away.  I’m talking about having  unscheduled time to ponder.   My son called it his “think time.”   Whether he was fixing fence around the farm, mowing our five-acre lawn, or stretched out on the couch lost in another world, he was the kind of kid whose mind never rested.  He would go deep into himself contemplating various mysteries of the universe.  Then he would unload all this thinking and resulting questions on his science mentor (Head of the Physics and Chemistry department at a nearby university) in their weekly meetings.  This “think time” was a precious investment in my son’s future as a scientist.

The freedom to ponder can also lead to dreams that they want to pursue or turn up questions they feel compelled to answer.  We must grant them the space to follow hard after these things.  Whether it is an apprenticeship with a professional tailor for the aspiring fashion designer, working overtime in a research lab for the wanna-be scientist, or joining an adult writing group for the ambitious young novelist, kids need time to follow their hearts.

Here’s the catch.  You can’t do these adult-level, passion-driven things if you are overloaded with all the stuff we think teens need to do to be impressive.  If your homeschool group has re-created all the activities of a public school (yearbook, literary magazine, cheerleading, clubs, etc.),  your teen can be president of all of them and still come up short.  Why?  For two reasons.  First, because she is spread so thin she never has time to be a creative and unusual leader. Secondly, she looks like the other 20,000 applicants in the admission officer’s pile. Anything she does in a typical teen organization looks like a typical teen.  And typical means she doesn’t stand out from the crowd and catch an admissions officer’s eye.

We can also sabotage our kids by enrolling them in too many tough classes (on top of the too many activities) and there is not time to really master the material in any of them.  Love of learning is killed off and so are the standardized test scores.  From a college admissions standpoint, it is much better to shoulder 1-3 AP classes a year and score a 5 on all the AP exams, than to take 7 AP classes and score a 3’s on the standardized tests.

I know that many of you are in the process of planning for another homeschooling year.  It’s time to map out those wonderful classes and think through the activities that your kids will pursue.  As you are planning, I invite you to explore the richness of the road less travelled.  Give your student and yourself the gift of a slower pace and watch the miracles unfold! Remember, busy-ness is not an indicator of importance or self-worth or productivity.  It is just busy.  It won’t help your student be a better person or get into a better college.

Jeannette Webb is founder of Aiming Higher Consultants, a high school planning and college consulting firm dedicated to helping homeschooled students reach their potential and successfully apply to their dream colleges.  Learn more at aiminghigherconsultants.com 


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