I'm sure glad I'm not a teenager anymore. In an article in today's New York Times, writer Alex Williams reports on a "small but growing number" of college bound students for whom summer has become a time of "resume building academic work and all-consuming, often exotic projects to change the world." Apparently there is a growing belief among young people and their parents that "downtime is wasted time," so teenagers are spending their summer months doing everything from advaced prep on their AP classes and early level college courses in basic subjects, to political internships in Washington, and working with impoverished families in the Phillipines. Obviously there is great value in all these activites. Who can argue with furthering your education, or volunteering to help your fellow man? I just can't help feeling saddened that young people believe it's worthless to spend a week at the beach with their family or friends, or to lay on their back porch reading a book. One student interviewed for the article admitted that she didn't have much time for her friends, and philosophized that it was just a "give and take." Another young woman expressed her hope that the "carefree feeling of being young would come out in college." Well, I didn't make it into Harvard, but I'm smart enough to know that you don't get second chances to experience the "carefree feelings of youth."
With this trend toward year round achivement, as with everything in life, the key is finding balance. Teenagers tend to believe that if a little bit of something is good, then a lot is even better, whether that something is drugs and sexual activity or advanced placement classes and volunteering in foreign countries. They aren't always mature enough to find the happy medium which best suits their individual emotional and physical capacities. As their parents, teachers, and society, it's our job to remind them that productive growth experiences really can occur in non-structured situations. Let the rat race wait a little longer - there is plenty of time for that!