Now we enter two months of limbo — done with high school, not yet starting college. None of her friends have very organized plans for the summer. A lot of them are “looking for a job” — which, in this economy, and with them just starting to look in mid-June, means they will be babysitting. It’s as if both kids and parents used all of their mental energy and organizational capacity making it through the college application process and senior year and finals and graduation and now… oops, here’s the summer.
The New York Times had a front-page story on Sunday morning about students at high-achieving high schools using prescription stimulants like Ritalin to improve their SAT and exam performance. Really interesting (and disturbing) story, estimating that as many as 30 percent of kids at some schools are abusing prescription drugs intended for children with conditions like ADHD. Not to get high, but to get the test scores necessary to please parents and teachers and get into prestigious colleges. And these are the “good” kids — the star students, the student council presidents etc.
The Times story focused on private schools in New York and public schools in affluent East Coast suburbs, but suggested this is a national trend. I asked B. if she had heard of such abuse of “study drugs” out here in Oakland and San Francisco. She said no, and sounded genuinely surprised. Maybe her school — which has a less academically pressured culture than some other private schools — is uniquely immune? Or maybe this hasn’t hit the Bay Area yet? “Things are more mellow here in the Bay Area,” B. suggested.
“One more bullet we dodged,” I thought. Along with anorexia, drug abuse, cutting, promiscuity, binge drinking, clinical depression, running away from home… the litany of hazards afflicting teens from otherwise safe and privileged communities in our weird, affluent country.
Because that’s one significance of graduation. Yes, graduation is a recognition of academic achievement, and of life transition — no longer a child, now (more or less) an adult.
But it’s also recognition that we did it — shepherded our small charges past the various shoals of childhood and adolescence.
They didn’t electrocute themselves by sticking their fat toddler fingers into wall sockets. They didn’t wander off into traffic. They didn’t eat poisonous berries or small plastic Legos. They didn’t get kidnapped by strangers, abused by priests, date-raped on Quaaludes by entire high school football teams. They didn’t catch meningitis or Lyme disease. They didn’t get shot by gangs. They didn’t get shot by police who assumed because of the color of their skin that they were in a gang.
They didn’t steer the car off the Bay Bridge while learning to drive. (Yet!)
They dressed ad nauseum in pink Disney princess gowns and clutched Barbie lunch boxes, but didn’t grow up to be Snooki or Kim Kardashian.