"SO THE GOOD boys and girls take the so-called right track, faded white hats grabbing credits. ... They read all the books but they can't find the answers," sings John Mayer in "No Such Thing," a popular song about today's teen life. But for some, the right track may not turn out to be the best path to happiness.
The right track is viewed as going to the best college, graduating at the top of the class, landing a high-paying job and then living "happily ever after." By single-mindedly pursuing good grades and sacrificing a good part of the fun of being young, some teens may be disappointed to find that their financially lucrative careers won't be as satisfying as they expected.
Is there is too much pressure on young people to achieve something that may ultimately end in discontent?
Holly Martin, a junior at Syosset High School on Long Island, N.Y., voices an opinion that seems to be in the minority in this academically competitive hotbed of teen-age yearning for success: "I think that it's not as important to get into the best college as it is to get into the college best for you."
She is one of many high school students struggling to be at the top, where a B now stands for Bad and an A is just Acceptable.
Samantha Prouse, a Syosset 10th-grader, feels pressure to be someone she doesn't choose to be. "Everything I do now is influenced by college, whether it's maintaining good grades, staying or leaving the honors track or keeping up two clubs for the National Honor Society," she says.
Young people in my community plan their lives according to what will look good on an application for college rather than what they really want to do. For example, they will participate in activities they don't enjoy.
Michael Fitoussi, a junior at Great Neck North High School in New York: "I have pressures to maintain my grades and excel on the hockey rink. I have to impress college scouts with my talent, but without high grades, no one will want me."
Although he says he always enjoyed playing hockey, the pressure he feels to be a star athlete in order to get on the right track has taken much of the joy out of the game.
Many of my peers work so hard because they're convinced that they might not succeed in life after school without attending a top college. Other pressures involve living up to other people's expectations, especially when compared with overachieving siblings who set the bar high.
Syosset sophomore Ryan Tancer says, "I get a lot of pressure from my parents since my older sister attends [the University of Pennsylvania], and I'm expected to live up to her accomplishments."
Lauren Smith, a junior at John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, N.Y., complains, "It definitely makes it harder when your parents think you can make it into a great school. You feel that you need to live up to their standards."
These teens feel compelled to live up to other people's expectations, not their own. Instead of working for their best and trying to meet their own standards, they compare what they do to the standards of their parents and peers. By not setting their own goals, they are the creations of other people.
When fitting into another person's mold, the teens become something different from who they are and who they are meant to be. This could lead them to a job they dislike and stuck in a life they don't enjoy because they will be working to be someone they are not.
Elana Jacobs, a junior at Kennedy, is one student who refuses to be caught up in the competition for grades.
"The pressures young people put on themselves are extensive," she says. "They assume the only way to ensure future success and happiness is by graduating from the best college. I believe in living life in order to make you happy at the present moment. Kids need to learn how to balance their high academic goals with realistic measures, like allowing yourself time to grow up and live out the proper teen-age life."
Today's teens need to learn to better manage their time and other people's expectations. Only then will they be free to be themselves, enjoy their teen-age years and still have a successful future.
Once teens learn to lead more balanced lives, they will be able to achieve academic success without missing the fun. Teen years are so fleeting and cannot be recaptured. Many kids are too distracted by future dreams to enjoy the present.
John Mayer's verse finishes, "I wonder if they've wished for anything better while in their memories, tiny tragedies."
He plays on the feelings of regret that the teen may feel. These adolescents who run on empty trying to be the best may end up wishing for something very different at the end of their right track.
Lindsey Jacobson, 15, is a high school student in Woodbury, N.Y.