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How Much Help is Too Much Help?

Guidance for Global Families
By Natasha Winnard
How Much Help is Too Much Help?

Last month’s article Does it Really Take a Village? focused on six possible reasons why parents might choose to look outside the school for additional help.

We know that students can benefit from the right kind of help, from the right kind of professionals at the right time. But just as you have only so many hours in the day, your students too can only take on so much before all that help becomes the problem, not the solution.

Imagine the scenario, a 17-year-old student breaks down in tears in the school office when asked about missing deadlines. On the surface it would appear that this student is struggling to manage their time effectively. With further investigation you discover that, in addition to school commitments, the student is working with Math, Chemistry and Physics tutors, seeing a therapist once a week, attending SAT tutoring classes at weekends and having a monthly meeting with an external college counselor, who sets homework between each session. Sounds exaggerated? Not at all. The pressure to get into college or to meet family expectations can lead to huge pressures on students to raise their level of achievement. This leads to additional classes, more tutors, and the inevitable negative impact on a student’s well-being. A stressed-out student can easily fall into a negative cycle around the Big Four enemies of health and well-being:

  1. I Can’t Sleep… There are not enough hours in a teenager’s life to balance all those additional commitments and get quality sleep. Stress leads to poor sleep patterns, which leads to more stress …
  1. I’ve Lost Control… Overcommitments can lead to a feeling of a lack of control. Every minute is dictated by pressured situations. This can result in fear, anger, and hopelessness….
  1. I’m Scared to Fail… The harder a student works to meet higher expectations, the more they battle with fear of failure. Left unchecked, this may lead to anxiety or depression.
  1. I Just Can’t Do It… Over time a student’s confidence will be eroded when they cannot meet expectations of daily success. What started out as a way of solving a problem has become the problem itself.

It’s a useful exercise to ask yourself if you would accept all the extra work from your employer that parents (and schools) sometimes ask of students. Would you put up with the extra hours and extra pressure?

If any of this strikes a chord, perhaps it is a good time to reflect on the demands that your students are under. Are they reasonable? We all want to give our children the best possible chance of success, but we need to also make sure that external support benefits students rather than harms them.

Natasha Winnard has come across many amazing young people in more than 20 years as an international educator, guidance and college counselor, and mentor in schools in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. Natasha Winnard Consultancy provides holistic, personalized guidance for young people and their families looking for support in the world of international education. 

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