“What don’t you understand? I’m the community service girl!” (aka Specializing for College)

Whole Children: Finding Balance when everyone wants ‘a thing’

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Whole living, whole health, whole beauty, whole soda, I walked down the aisles of whole foods yesterday and looked at product after product labeled ‘whole.’ What does this really mean? I think branding reps, PR agents and food companies push the idea of ‘whole living’ because it symbolizes a product that contributes to everything in your life—good for your tastebuds, good for your skin, good for your mental state.

Lets take a fictional product: the ‘whole cookie.’ If we follow the principles of whole living, this cookie would taste amazing, it would be good for our bodies and health, it would make us feel good to eat it, we might have a spiritual experience remembering our childhood while scarfing down the chocolate morsels, and as the brand agents would like us to believe, we could even be smarter because we ate the cookie while studying.

Now, you are thinking, ‘Vanessa, how does this have to do with me? How does this have to do with teenagers?’ Well, in this movement towards whole living, balance and having something benefit all aspects of our life, why is it that teenagers are being pushed and pushed to specialize. Teens are always saying to me, ‘I am an athlete’ or ‘I am in the arts.’ Everyone seems to have ‘their thing’ that they do, that their parents brag about, and that they write their college essay on.

College counselors especially love to push this notion, I remember being asked by my college counselor,

“OK, Vanessa, what are the college admissions officers going to remember you by?”

“My bubbly personality?” I jokingly retort.

“No, seriously. Bubbles aren’t exactly impressive. You need something that you can represent, something that you will be known for and you can weave it through your entire application.”

Ok, I was joking Mr Burnett. But, yes, after much thought and deliberation, consideration of my ‘talents,’ he did convince me to become…dah dah dah: The Community Service Girl. 100 hour service awards, student body community service representative, starting a non-profit thanksgiving meal service for homeless…yup, it became my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I love community service and would have probably done a lot even if my college application did not depend on it. Would I have started a non-profit, probably not. Would I have challenged my school to bring in over 10,000 lbs of rice for kids in Mexico, probably not. Community service, once a feel good, do good extra-curricular became my identity. People at school literally called me “The Community Service Girl.” I was recently in my High School newspaper for an alum write-up and they said that’s what I was ‘known for.’ Someone ran against me senior year, I went up to her in the hallway and was like, “hello, I am The Community Service Girl, damn you! My admission to college depends on it.”

This was not nice, it was not healthy, it was not what I really wanted. So here is my point, let’s bring the trend of whole living to teenagers. Parents instead of encouraging their kids to specialize, specialize specialize, so they can be The Best, teenagers should be trying everything! They should be taking art classes, football clubs and trying out for the play. I see so many kids whose hobbies turn into obligations and stressors because that’s. all. they. do.

If you are a teen, don’t think your chances of getting into college will be dashed if you try a new hobby or quit the equestrian team because you are a little tired of it. Try new things before you no longer have the time or energy. You do not have to be The Best _______. Just be you.

Parents, make sure your kids know that they can and should do whatever makes them happy. Make sure that if they have ‘a thing’ they are taking breaks and trying other hobbies every once in a while. And never, ever, let something that is supposed to be enjoyable, become an obligation.

0 thoughts on ““What don’t you understand? I’m the community service girl!” (aka Specializing for College)”

  1. Really a good idea to point this out. I think the whole point of high school and college is for kids to experiment and figure out what they like. High school is way too early for them to be pigeon holed as good at only one thing, thats what professional life is for!

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