Stressed-Out Senior Needs Mom’s Support

Someone – okay, me – recently made a comment about my daughter's clownlike application of ChapStick. It wasn't meant as a dig or even a joke, really. It was more of an observation. Who knew it would produce this response?

Me: "Your ChapStick looks like clown makeup. It's all around the outside of your lips."

Katie: Cups hands over her face and bursts into tears.

On reflection, I should have known she would lack coping skills today, much less a sense of humor. In fact, the whole reason she's sitting in the passenger seat of the van, as opposed to driving herself and her sister to school as usual, is that she stayed up until 4 this morning writing not one, but two, essays due today for English class.

There was no way I going to let her get behind the wheel of a car after less than four hours of sleep. This was a good call on my part. The comment about the ChapStick, maybe not so much.

Now, lest I be judged a negligent mother for letting my 17-year-old high school senior work into the wee hours writing essays, let me start by admitting I was sound asleep and didn't know she stayed up almost until dawn.

When I went to bed at 11, she said she had only about a half-hour's worth of work left to do and would be packing up soon.

Also, for the record, Katie isn't a slacker who left those essays to the last minute. She's a hard worker and high achiever who left those essays to the last minute. There's a difference.

Unfortunately, the 60-hour-per-week workload of today's high school senior leaves little time for rest or, for that matter, for eating, bathing, putting away clean laundry or speaking in coherent sentences. I'm not exaggerating – that 60 hours reflects the actual amount of time my daughter spends each weekday in school, at sports practice and doing homework in the evenings.

Never mind band concerts, small group projects or leadership roles – all of which took extra time this week. The girl is swamped.

That's nothing. College applications are due this month, a process so arduous I'm certain I wouldn't be granted admission to a university these days, even with decades of life experience to beef up my resume. You need a long list of achievements, a flow chart, a secretary and a Ouija board just to complete the forms and submit them on time.

Add it all together, and you have a teenager on the brink.

Once again, I'm amazed at how easily our life slipped into the very state of chaos to which I swore we never would succumb.

Back before I had teenagers, I read plenty of articles about teen stress, outlining all the physical and psychological risks facing today's young people. I declared – emphatically, because that's how declarations are made – "Not in our house."

Sanctimoniously, I said we would avoid the frenzied pace of overachievement. Instead, I would require that my children make some hard choices. They could commit to just a few satisfying and worthwhile activities to complement their academic experiences. This way, there would be time for family dinners, household chores and the occasional baby-sitting job.

This declaration turned out to be a lot of idealistic hot air on my part. Oh well. In parenting, ignorance is bliss. Our lifestyle is as insanely busy as all the articles said it would be.

Plus, despite being busy enough for two teens, Katie managed to slip in a few commitments under my parental radar. "It's no big deal," she told me when she joined a new youth group. "We meet in the mornings before school."

And so it has gone since last Monday – early morning meetings colliding with homework, sports practice and the odd piano lesson, culminating in a three-hour nap intended to pass for a good night's sleep.

This means it's time for just one thing – Mom's Stress Management Program – which begins with the imposition of adequate rest. Of course, insisting a 17-year-old go to bed early isn't easy. There will be resistance, in much the same way a baby resists going to bed while rubbing her red eyes, writhing with exhaustion.

Somehow, though, I don't think a girl who blubbers about misplaced ChapStick will mind being forced into a state of restorative slumber.

The next step is the reality check – something I would never attempt until after the sleep deprivation has been addressed, for obvious reasons. Once the dark circles under her eyes fade and we're facing the light of a new day – a weekend, thank heaven – we'll sit at the kitchen table and make a list of what's on her agenda.

We'll assess how crucial each item is to the advancement of civilization, and hopefully it will be clear to Katie that she doesn't have to run herself ragged to be happy or successful or even to get into college.

Maybe she'll learn some new habits, such as time management and the capacity to control her calendar by saying "no." Heck, maybe she'll even give up all-nighters just in time for college.

I know, I know… but it can't hurt to be idealistic, can it?

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