I was the epitome of the “good kid” in school. I made good grades, participated in extracurricular activities, and I never got into trouble. I was late to class one day in high school and was threatened with a referral. I talked my way out of it, well cried my way out of it, but the thought of getting in trouble haunted me for days. I think that’s why in my adult life I began to suffer with anxiety and why I’ve always struggled with people-pleasing. It never was the fear of getting in trouble per se. It was the fear of being a disappointment.
When you’re a “good kid,” there’s a level of unspoken responsibility.
We expect them to be quiet, to conform, and to do everything right. We depend on them to have it all together. But how much pressure is that? Do we give them freedom to make mistakes? More importantly, when they do make mistakes (which they will), will we give them grace?
A big part of my job as a high school teacher includes the following: calling parents about behavior issues, having student conferences about work ethic, and finding ways to quiet down the kids who are too talkative in class. I sometimes work with students who have serious attitude problems or kids who are just apathetic about school in general. I go out of my way for them. I make sure I treat them with extra kindness, extra love and extra attention.
But what about those kids who are always on task, always work hard and always respectful?
I honestly can’t tell you much about them. I just know that I expect them to do the right thing. They are the “good” kids. The kids who are at the top of their class. They say the right things, do the right things and make the best grades. They are on a perpetual pedestal in my mind, the cliché versions of “a pleasure to have in class.” So I don’t have to worry about them, right? But sometimes what I might not realize is they have their own burdens to carry. The pressure to perform, to always have a smile, to always make the best grades or just to not disappoint those around them can become mentally exhausting. And more importantly, I don’t want them to carry these pressures into adulthood.
I see so many posts on social media that encourage us to check on our strong friends, but do we check on our strong kids? If we haven’t, let’s start right now. Let’s give them the space to be able to express how they feel. Let’s remind them that they aren’t perfect and they don’t have to be. Let them know that it’s ok to say no to activities when they feel overwhelmed. Let’s check our expectations of them and make sure they are realistic, attainable and reasonable. Share with them your own stories of success and failures.