In my years of working with teenagers, the most surprising thing to me probably should have been obvious. Teenagers really care what peers think about their class choices, GPA, and ACT/SAT scores. As a result, kids are now looking to each other when deciding on what classes to take, how high their GPA/ACT should be, and what standardized test score they need.
Perhaps this is a generational thing, I really do not recall caring what my classmates thought about my GPA, test scores, or if I was taking an AP class or not. I don’t recall a single conversation with my high school peers about what classes would look good on a college resume. I didn’t even have a college resume! I, along with majority of my classmates, just figured college would work itself out.
Now by contrast, I work with students I make test at a different high school because they know their classmates GPAs, current ACT scores, and feel intimidated! Students know and care very much about each other’s academic and athletic progress and how they stack up comparatively. I contend, much more than they should.
In my work as a tutor and college coach I’ve discovered teens talk to each other often about college, far more than you may believe. When I started my business, it was typically the moms passing my name to each other in the stands as a referral. Now, the students themselves are asking each other for recommendations and passing on my name. While this is great for business, I am thankful my students enjoy working with me and find me helpful, it is also disconcerting that ACT tutors and college admission consultants are part of our teens’ everyday conversations with one another. What used to be the purview and responsibility of parents has started to shift to the teenagers themselves.
In my work, I often have multiple friends working with me individually at the same time since they tend to refer one another to me. I have had to engage with the students, and their parents, to stop score comparisons, competitiveness, the monitoring of each other’s practice test progress! None of that was healthy for any of them, nor was it productive for their test preparation, their sanity, or their friendships. This is not limited to a single friend group, or a single high school, but a trend I am seeing on the rise.
I constantly remind students to not compare themselves to their friends, siblings, or classmates. It is a hard message to get across as they are often being raised in a fairly competitive and comparative culture. Still, I will say it every day, over and over, until they hear my voice above the fray. Compete with yourself, not anyone else, be just a bit better today than you were yesterday, repeat until you are satisfied.