Parenting Matters – Taking a Test to Stress Less

By Beth Baldwin, LMHC  |Yes, we have stress. Most every parent in Lexington would agree that stress is a problem for their kids. Parents also tell me they are stressed about how to provide the best foundation for their kids in what seems to them to be an increasingly competitive environment. Taking an SAT Prep course appears to be the norm now. Where does this stress come from?

Some of it is a function of the competitiveness of global economics, manufacturing and service jobs going overseas, the recession, daily reports of unemployment rates not improving, zero net new jobs created in August of this year, and scare mongering about graduating college seniors not being able to find jobs.

—Fact: Recent unemployment rates for high school graduates under age 25 who were not enrolled in school was 22.5%, compared with 9.3% for college graduates of the same age. The comparable figure at the time for the overall unemployment rate was

—Fact: Every kid I know who graduated from LHS in 2005, with or without college has a job.

We have some of the best stress available

One of the rallying cries for how destructive the competitiveness and resultant stress is for kids and teens was the recent documentary “Race to Nowhere” that was screened in Lexington last April at Cary Hall. The movie explores the many ways we create some of the stress ourselves.

According to the 2009 Lexington High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey:

—89% report their stress has increased since starting high school

—77% report atmosphere at LHS encourages academic competition

—74% report the atmosphere in the town of Lexington encourages academic competition

We have some of the best stress busting, too

LHS is working hard to counteract student stress. There is a terrific website called “Reducing Stress and Developing Resiliency” ( There students and parents will find great advice: recommended skills to practice, as well as information about how stress reduction and resiliency (being able to deal with stress) are being worked into the school curriculum. One of the very good pieces of resiliency advice offered as a “stress buster” on the website is “be true to yourself”.

It is hard to be true to yourself when, as an adolescent, you are in the process of formulating your identity. Erik Erikson called the psychosocial crisis “Identity vs. Role Confusion” with the main question being “Who am I and where am I going?”

How taking a test can bust stress

As a therapist, I am finding it is this “Who am I and where am I going?” that seems to have taken on a new competitiveness, making it more important than ever for kids to figure out who they are, what they want, and how to go for it. I am finding success in using a test to help clients find out some highly personal and highly relevant answers to this question.

The tool is called the Strong Interest Inventory, and this test and some versions of it are sometimes used at LHS with students. About 70% of colleges use the SII to help students with career planning.

The reason that the Strong Interest Inventory (SII) is useful in adolescence and in Lexington is because it can help with identity formation, self-confidence, and direction for activity areas to build upon interests and strengths. This is because:

—Inherent in the outcomes is the legitimacy of diverse work roles and work styles.

—The different types of people are all successful types, whether they are Accountant, Corporate Trainer, Forester, introvert, extrovert, team player, individual contributor.

—Therefore, an adolescent can see reflected in their SII results their own legitimacy of interests and the potential for their success in roles that interest them.

As one of my high school clients said after reading through her SII profile, “There is hope for me after all!”

One high school student identified that a good first step towards law might be to become a paralegal- since she could envision getting an Associates Degree but not doing 6 years of college and law school. Being a paralegal would get her working sooner, which is what she wants, and would get her a degree which is what her parents want. It is also a job that offers an advantage in terms of getting a BA in law enforcement or social work- other areas of interest. This information will help streamline the college search process. The student is reporting less stress already, because she feels more in control of her life.

The case of the missing major

The college version helps students with selecting courses, selecting a major and minors, and identifying job categories after graduation. Here is a recent story about that.

A client of mine had just completed his freshman year at St Michael’s College and came to discuss the fracture that had developed between his mother and himself over what he should be studying in college, and subsequently, what sort of work would he do.

The mom, who has an MBA from the University of Chicago, was quite certain that business was the only way to go in this new global economy. The son was quite sure that teaching was what he wanted. The mom told me, “He only wants teaching, because he doesn’t know anything else. He’s been in school for 13 years, and all he has been exposed to is teachers.” She told her son she would no longer pay for his college if he pursued a career in teaching. The two of them agreed to the son taking the SII and looking at the results together.

The son’s SII results showed his interests were not in the area of entrepreneurship, i.e. what his mother’s SII results would look like if she took the test. According to the young man, “No wonder she doesn’t get it.” In addition to showing his genuine interest in teaching, the results also surfaced a keen interest in graphic arts. Interestingly the son had been compiling videos and constructing presentations for his mom’s business during his high school years. Mom proudly said, “His work is excellent, completely professional. He could earn a living from that.” The son said, “I have been thinking about taking some more classes in that area, because there is so much more I could do and it comes pretty easy to me.”

What the son and the mom agreed on was that the son would pursue a graphic arts major with the intent of getting into this field after college. Somewhere down the line, the son thinks he may want to become a college professor and teach graphic arts. The son’s classes for sophomore year reflect his new direction in graphic arts with a nod to some psychology courses which are of interest. And yes, mom is still paying the tuition


Beth Baldwin, LMHC, is a child, adolescent, and family therapist in Lexington at Lexington Counseling, 18 Muzzey Street. Beth grew up in Lexington, attended Maria Hastings, Diamond, and LHS. Beth has a diverse career history included teaching middle school and high school science in the US, UK, and Greece, business school, advertising and marketing positions in London and NYC, her own marketing research consultancy, a second master’s degree, community mental health, and private practice. Beth is married with three children who attend or have graduated from Lexington schools. The family resides in Lexington in the house built by Beth’s grandparents in 1931.

Beth Baldwin, LMHC /Lexington Counseling /18 Muzzey St /Lexington, MA 02421 /Tel: 781-862-8621

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