The Kids Are Beyond Alright


This past school year, I entered my second decade of school counseling.

It’s tough work, though very satisfying.

As a high school counselor, I work with young adults – as well as parents, teachers and administrators – to address their academic, career and social-emotional concerns, anything that affects their personal growth and development.

(Quick aside: I’m not a “guidance counselor.” Guidance counselors of decades past focused on vocational tracking and often were “lone rangers.” I’m part of a student services team, guided by the principles of the American School Counselor Association’s National Model.)

After the end of my first school year in June 2012, I worried that something was really wrong – I felt listless, shut down. It wasn’t until about the Fourth of July that I began to feel re-energized.

I realized my system was taking the time it needed to replete emotional reserves drained by 10½ months of interacting with thousands of people.

My caseload hovers between 400 and 500.

Add a faculty of about 200, and one, two or more parents for each student…

… and there you have it.

Now I understand the importance of taking the time to replenish, finding activities and relationships that nurture and enhance living.

To enjoy moments of rest – however short or long they may be.

One of the first lessons my counselor education program imparted was the importance of active listening in accompanying people on their journeys. I’m at the point in the summer where, having begun to recharge from 2021-22, I’m gearing up for 2022-23, which will begin in a few short weeks.

It’s good to have this time unplugged from the storylines of my students so that, when the time comes to plug in again, I can do so with my full attention.

A fair number of us at are, or have been educators. I’m sure you can share your own thoughts on the state of things. I’d like to share four takeaways about the young people I’m honored to serve:

They’re smart.

Yes, they know more about tech than I’ll ever learn. They also have a facility for all sorts of subjects, from the STEM areas to history to languages to visual and performing arts. They regularly amaze me.

They’re complex.

Of course, adolescents still deal with peer pressure, first romantic relationships, parent drama and so on. But these young people also cope with homelessness, working multiple jobs to help families survive, coming out (in a variety of ways), and understanding their own mental health. Which leads to…

They’re overloaded.

Often scheduled to the minute with extracurricular activities, part-time (or full-time) jobs, projects and/or tutoring to help them chase their “dream school,” continuously plugged in to their phone, these young people are almost always on. They need the time and space, as we all do, to shut down and recharge.


They’re awesome!

This is, by far, most important. As exasperating and challenging as adolescents can be, they regularly exhibit a capacity to learn, grow, cherish and change that I wish were emulated by folks who are decades older.

If you’re a parent, you already intuitively know these things. If, like me, you are not a parent, I hope these observations encourage you.

These young people will take their gifts, challenges and experiences into a world that is in great need of its own rejuvenation.

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Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 31 years (9 legal).

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Famed Member
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July 26, 2022 6:58 am


When people complain about our educational system, or (more likely) our children, I have to remind them that the amount of information they have access to doubles every 18 months, which means in the time from sixth grade thru graduation they are pummeled by 16x more stuff than they started.

It’s also incomparable to what you (or I) dealt with when we were in school.

Schools are getting overwhelmed with what to teach or not to (see ya, cursive!), yet somehow the majority of our children come out okay. They’ll have their moments, of course, and that’s where you fit in.

About twenty years ago, I realized that the information I taught in class was secondary to building the skills they’d need to succeed, and that world history was the vehicle I’d use. I think I became a better teacher as a result.

Phylum of Alexandria
Famed Member
July 26, 2022 8:00 am

Great write-up!

I sure hope the kids are doing okay. I confess I’m in a bit of a bubble right now, with the only kids I’m exposed to being infants and toddlers. I don’t interact with so many older children or teens.

I have read that the ubiquity of social media has been really harmful to the mental health of teen girls. I do generally hope that kids can find the time to make connections and have some fun the old fashioned way: outside, interpersonally, away from adults. Not that online gaming and stuff can’t have any social rewards; it’s poor as a substitute for the real thing, but fine as a supplement.

During my time in university, I came to lament the way that higher administration treated the enterprise like a business, and the students as their customers. That’s not the students’ faults, but such a model does incentivize certain students to fight for what they think they’re entitled to, rather than approach the endeavor as an opportunity for personal challenge and growth. Talking to my colleagues who are still in academia, it seems things have grown so much worse in that vein since I left. And teachers seem to be the force that’s least respected in this new model, which is so frustrating.

Teaching and advising are such important avenues for a country’s wellbeing, yet they never seem to get the respect they deserve…in the US at least (though I’m sure there is plenty of local variation that doesn’t resemble the national trend).

It sounds like you are needed and respected for the work you do, and that is all one can hope for. Your efforts are appreciated by us as well! Keep it up!

Last edited 1 year ago by Phylum of Alexandria
Famed Member
July 26, 2022 1:51 pm

Yes. I love teenagers in all of their complicated glory. They deal with so much, and just keep on going, making their own places in the world.

Famed Member
July 26, 2022 9:18 pm

I’m glad to hear the kids are alright, Mr. Small. I have a cousin whose daughter is majoring in English. I want to tell her: “Stay away from the liberal arts,” but I’m not going to kill her dream of being a published fantasy writer. What is the term? Stem lord? Yeah. I don’t want to be one of those.

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