Average (noun): a standard or level that is considered to be typical or usual. At a glance, this Cambridge dictionary definition has a clearly positive connotation. If I go to the doctor for my annual physical, and my blood work comes back at “a standard that is considered typical or usual,” then I’m having a good day. The same applies as I recall my children’s developmental milestones during their early years. When they were babies, all I wished for at each doctor’s visit was the reassurance that my little ones were doing what was “typical or usual” for their ages.
Yet, as my kids have gotten older, average isn’t quite what it used to be.
My metro-Atlanta suburban community undoubtedly mirrors countless areas throughout the country. It’s a safe, tight-knit place with award-winning schools and opportunities for my children. However, there’s a flip side. It’s also a highly competitive arena where advanced placement courses are the “norm,” along with elementary-aged travel sports teams and premiere arts programs. Hybrid schools are on the rise, much in part because of the demand of students’ extracurricular schedules. Most families in my area have practices, lessons and/or tutoring sessions booking up their calendars during multiple days of the week. And, in full disclosure, mine is one of them.
As a participant in this skewed picture, I continually come back to one question: Where does “average” fit into this scenario?
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the probability of a boy who plays high school basketball progressing to the collegiate level is 3.4%; that percentage falls to 1% for Division I schools. Female high school basketball players have a slightly better chance of at 4%. And, that is just one example in the athletic arena. I’d be interested to see the statistics for those receiving a degree from Harvard or making it on to a Broadway stage, also.
So, what are we doing here?
I’m in no way disregarding that 3-4%. We must continue to shape our most brilliant young minds, push our exceptional athletes, and nurture raw genius when we see it in our musicians and artists. But, what I’m describing is extraordinary. When we highjack that word and apply its standards to the masses, we are crushing an entire generation of children in the middle. And, the truth is that most of our children sit right there – in the middle. A majority of our elementary, middle and high school-aged kids are AVERAGE. Remember them? They are the same “typical and usual” little people we celebrated as toddlers.
Extraordinary is not average. And, average is not subpar. Y’all, we have totally lost our way.
I recently came across an NYU study that echoed a sentiment I hear often in my community: both parents and kids feel stuck in a cycle that we can’t control. As one researcher explained,
“Importantly, in a theme echoed by schools and experts, students noted that these demands did not always feel appropriate to their developmental levels. Instead, they felt they were asked to work as hard as adults, or even harder, with little time left for relaxation or creativity.”
Clearly, this applies not only to academics but anything that fills up our calendars and assigns undue pressure on our kids.
We must remember that a course load full of AP classes isn’t a requirement for our kids to grow academically and develop a love of learning. Nor, is playing on a travel team necessary for our young athletes to experience the best that sports have to teach them: teamwork, discipline, and what it looks like to have fun. In fact, helping our children master balance in their lives may be the greatest skill we help them develop in order to become successful adults one day.
As a mom who admittedly struggles inside this societal pressure cooker, I’m trying. I’m trying to listen when my gut tells me that it’s absolutely acceptable for my 3rd grader to be stumbling over his multiplication tables or struggling to get through a chapter book. He’s nine. I need to remember that if my daughter doesn’t make the high school sports team she aspires to, she is not destined for a miserable high school experience. I’m obligated to expand my prism here. If there’s not more ahead for my children than all-star baseball and a part in the spring acting performance, then I’m not doing my job.
Let’s please stop. Take a deep breath. And, celebrate our kids…right where they are.
The truth is they are destined to do great things despite us. It’s going to be much more fun, though, if we join them for the ride.