Rejection season is nearly upon us.
While it used to be a rite of passage for 17- and 18-year-old high school seniors, younger and younger children are now facing the admissions process.
Parents have pushed for more choices in education, and there's a growing number of magnet and charter schools to serve public school students. With these choices comes greater responsibility for parents to research the options, maneuver through the maze of alternatives and then handle the application process.
But there's a trickle-down effect of constantly competing. Welcome to today's high-stakes childhood, where children as young as third and fourth grade are enrolled in private test-prep classes to give them an edge on standardized test scores. Fifth- or sixth-graders apply to middle schools. Eighth-graders try for the best high schools. Seniors wait for college decisions, many of which should be arriving in the next several weeks.
Families with the time and resources to compete for selective institutions have always done so. With the rise of competitive public school options and a greater willingness to invest in childhood enrichment, that pressure is not just confined to elites. Meanwhile, a third of teens reported feeling overwhelmed by stress, and just as many expected their stress to increase, according to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association.
Children navigate social rejection almost daily: Someone doesn't want to play with them on the playground or sit with them at lunch or invite them to their party. It's an essential part of life to learn to cope with the feelings those moments provoke.
What is the right age to face institutional rejection? Does it make more of an impact at a younger age, or are young kids impervious to the expectations we create in our heads as we get older?
For those who might be facing their first serious setback in the coming weeks, it's good to keep such stumbling blocks in perspective.
Annie Fox, author of "The Girls' Q&A Book on Friendship: 50 Ways to Fix a Friendship Without the Drama," says rejection can be character-building if parents deal with it in a positive way.
"Acknowledge what (children) are feeling," she said. A child may feel hurt, "less than" or that the decision isn't fair. "Be empathetic. Share a story when you may have experienced the same," Fox said. Maybe there was a time when you didn't make a team, get a part or a promotion that required a lot of hard work. It's helpful to talk about how those disappointments opened doors to other opportunities.
Setbacks create chances to do things that would not have been possible if a first-choice plan had worked out.
For children who have access to a good-enough education, having a positive attitude and resiliency have been proven to pay off in long-term success. And, unlike a social rejection, which is intensely personal, an institutional rejection may often have to do with factors completely outside the control of an applicant.
You may think once you're established in your career, you're done with the rejection gauntlet. But then you have children, and face those agonizing choices and waiting games all over again. Somehow, these decisions feel even more fraught and stressful than those you made for yourself. You're responsible for giving another person their best opportunities.
It's useful to remember and appreciate the roadblocks we faced on our own journeys.
I started kindergarten in public school and graduated from the same public school system, blissfully unaware of high-stakes testing until I showed up for the SAT one Saturday morning. I only applied to two universities, remarkably similar ones. I didn't feel the sting of a significant rejection until I was either 19 or 20. Back in those heady days of print journalism, scoring an internship at a daily metro newspaper was harder than gaining admission to either college to which I applied.
I tried for internships at papers throughout the country, so I received my share of coast-to-coast rejection letters. But you know what happens when you cast a net wide enough. Eventually, something turns up.
It's the way you chase those rare triumphs through the rejections that changes the direction of your life.