Interview Q and A: High School’s Not Forever

Media Questions with Authors’ Responses

Jane Bluestein and Eric Katz would be delighted to talk to you about their book, High School’s Not Forever. They have provided the following questions and answers to help. Also available as a list of the same questions on this page but without answers.

• How are the realities of high school different from when you were in high school?

Jane: I went to two high schools, which were very different from one another, but the general scope of issues we cover in this book is very much the same as what I experienced in each of them. Cliques, homework, parents, rules and restrictions, academic pressures, tests, and the pressures of getting into college—these were all issues at both of my high schools. What we cover in the chapter on violence (emotional, verbal and physical) was also present.

I think the only thing that seems much more pronounced in many of today’s high schools (or for many of today’s high school kids) is the level of sexual activity. Only a few of the kids I went to high school with were sexually active. The percentages have radically changed over the years.

Eric: In many ways not much has changed. Some students excel, some just survive, and others sink. Day-to- day life in high school is pressure-filled and every student is affected by at least one type of pressure (academic, social, sexual… the list could go on forever here.)

Another constant is that you can not always tell from outside appearances who is having a hard time coping. Too often I have seen the “popular, well-adjusted teen” be the one who melts down.

I do believe that today’s high school students face these issues an earlier age then I did (some do so with a greater wisdom then I had at that age) however many are emotionally unprepared to handle all of this pressure. I see many teens without consistent, healthy adults there for support and guidance.

• How did this book come about?

Jane: A couple of years ago, I was in a meeting with the buyers from a national bookstore chain. They were looking to expand the number of titles they carried for the teen and young adult market. We got to talking about how so many kids were having a hard time getting through the various challenges of adolescence, and high school in particular. I had this notepad in front of me and as I’m listening, I scribble something like “High School Isn’t Forever.”

The head of sales for our publisher, Health Communications, Inc., thought this would be a good title for a book, but it took another five years or so before it actually turned into a project. I knew this was an important topic, and one I wanted to address, but the missing link for me was what Eric was able to provide as a coauthor.

Eric: I can remember sitting in a diner in NY with Jane discussing the concept for this book. We both passionately believed, and still believe, that high school students often face 4-years of confusion, stress, and turmoil. At times, for a variety of reasons, we adults seem to discount how hard this truly is. By letting current high school students, and recent high school survivors, tell in their own words all about the daily grind they experienced, we thought teens would see that they were not the only ones with these feelings or experiences.

• Why did you write this book?

Jane: For the past twenty-some years, in my trainings and my other books, I’ve been begging adults to quit telling kids that high school is the best time of their lives. I have always wanted to write something that would get this message across to kids, to create something that would, in some way, validate the reality of what they were experiencing and to let them know that things change after high school. That the reality and values you experience in high school, things like who sits where at lunch or who’s in this group or on that team, don’t actually transfer to the reality most of us experience after high school.

I wanted kids to know that whether they’re having a great time in high school or a horrible experience, that they will have options after high school that they do not have now. I have always suspected I would have benefited greatly from someone telling me that these would indeed not be the best years of my life, and in hearing something that actually acknowledged how painful some of those experiences were.

Additionally, I wanted to provide some tips, “survival strategies,” if you will, to help them with the very specific and practical issues they may encounter, whether it be how to eat before a test, how to ask someone out on a date, or how to build (or rebuild) your parents’ trust.

Eric: I see pain in high schools students’ lives on a daily basis. Not only do our teens struggle to find healthy answers about sex, drugs, friends, academics and careers, they often do not have the words to ask and when they do, there may not be anyone available to listen, validate and guide their paths.

This book does not take the place of caring healthy adults but it does help guide teens. It is an action-oriented book. I did not want to just expose how our kids are struggling and then end the book. There are concrete tips, strategies and steps in here that teens can use to work through the struggles of today. If we can help them get through today, they are much more able to see that tomorrow has greater promise.

• Some adults have complained that there are a lot of negative stories in your book? What do you say to them?

Jane: First of all, I point out that there are, indeed, a lot of very positive stories in the book and that we heard from quite a few kids who had very positive experiences in high school.

Nonetheless, reality is what reality is, and for a lot of kids, that reality is pretty negative. We printed what we got, good, bad and real. I think readers will find a nice mix in the book, and on the Web site, as well.

Don’t forget, this book was originally intended to help support, encourage, and validate kids who are having a tough time in school or in some area of their high school experience, and we found that even kids who like high school a lot really struggle with parts of just being a teen!

Eric: Real is real. I only think things here could be viewed as truly negative if there was no hope. This book is filled with hope. Students share not just their problems but how they survived, what helped, what hurt, and what they wish they had at that time to help. If you spend any amount of time with high school age students, you learn that their lives, just like ours, do have negative parts. Unlike adults they lack the experience and perspective to see that things do change.

If we presented a fluffy, feel-good version of high school life, it might help many of these adults feel better, but our children would still feel pain, fear and uncertainty.

Real lives rarely look like 1950’s family shows and the truth is that every story does not end happily with teens giggling together at the malt shop.

• What’s wrong with telling kids that high school is the best time of their lives?

Jane: Well think about it. Whether you’re miserable or having a blast in high school, that notion suggests that it’s all downhill after graduation. I think the implications of that suggestion are pretty dangerous, especially for a kid who feels marginalized, disempowered, overwhelmed, or depressed.

I actually have met a few people who insist that high school was the best time of their lives. I think that’s kind of sad, really. Those “rest of your life” years afterward last a whole lot longer than the four years you actually spend in high school. That’s a long time to be “less happy.”

The majority of adults I’ve polled—and I’ve asked thousands about this—laugh out loud at the idea of high school being the best time of their lives. Most people say they found far more happiness and fulfillment afterwards.

Eric: It is a double-edged sword. If the statement is true, well then the message is look forward to 70 years of life that just won’t measure up.

Even more troubling is putting this thought into the mind of a teen that is experiencing pain, despair and confusion on a daily basis or at the moment. How frightening it must be to feel like that and be told “This is it, the best there is and by the way why the heck aren’t you enjoying it?”

Giving a teen permission to express that today, this semester, or all of high school is not an easy time is a gift that I never received while in high school. In time, students will be able to decide what was or is “the best time of their lives.”

• Why are you saying high school’s not forever?

Eric: Well, first, it is indeed the truth. If we adults are to have any creditability with kids, honesty is where it begins. “High school’s not forever” is a phrase of freedom. It can mean your world is getting bigger, you are gaining more power in your life, and you have the opportunity to be who you always knew you could be but never felt safe or comfortable enough to be during high school.

Jane: We want them to know that, especially if it’s not a good experience, that “this too shall pass.” That they will have options and opportunities after high school that, legally or logistically, they generally can’t have while they are still in high school (or at least are high-school aged).

• Who’s the intended audience for this book?

Jane & Eric: Certainly we want to get this book into the hands of any high school student who is unhappy, overwhelmed, or struggling in any way during his or her high school years. As we were collecting stories, it became obvious that there are other appropriate markets as well, including kids just about to enter high school, recent graduates, and especially adults who live or work with teens.

• How do you see this book helping?

Eric: I see many “ah-ha” moments. Like, “Wow, someone else felt this, did this and survived this. Maybe I can too.” We put more tools in the hands of kids (how to approach a teacher, be a friend, deal with loss etc.). This validates that they have some power in their lives. They, the students can change some aspects of their high school lives.

Our kids are unbelievably resilient. If we give them real options and support their choices, the future is likely to be a better place.

Jane: I’m hoping that if kids can relate to the stuff that other kids contributed, it will make it really clear that they are not alone in whatever they are experiencing. I also hope that kids will find some very practical tips to help them navigate the high school experience, ways they can make the experience more positive and successful.

• Your contributors represent quite a diverse population. Where did they come from?

Jane & Eric: We heard from kids from all over the U.S. and Canada. We did not solicit responses from overseas, though from our experience, the material we received suggests that this book would be relevant in a number of overseas markets.

More than half of the responses were submitted by the students of teachers and administrators who have attended Jane’s workshops and knew we were looking for material. The schools in which these individuals work represent a very wide range of student populations and communities.

Additionally, Eric had first-hand access to a very diverse student population in the school in which he works, and many of our contributors came from his current students and kids he worked with in recent years past.

• What did you learn in researching this book?

Jane: I have an even greater appreciation for adolescents than I did before. It became even more clear to me how badly kids want to be taken seriously and treated respectfully—by their peers, by the adults in their lives, and by the world in general. It also became evident that there really is no one-size-fits-all high school experience, and that trying to convince kids that “reality” is different from their actual experience is both insulting and a bit dangerous.

Also, for me, writing for kids, after writing for adults all my adult life, was a real challenge. Although the majority of the content in this book is student-to-student, there is some factual information as well as tips and suggestions that come from adults. Maintaining the “kid perspective” was tricky at times and a lot of stuff I initially thought would have been OK got dumped along the way as being not kid-friendly enough.

Eric: I think the book was a reminder of how important it is to really listen to and hear our kids. They have great insight, talent, compassion and love. What they often do not have are healthy outlets for these traits.

I also gained a deeper respect for what their world is like. SO many kids are living parts of adult life. They often work to support the family, care for younger siblings, cook, clean, translate and are many times the fragile thread that keeps some families together. I truly understand why many of our priorities as educators are not viewed as importantly by the kids. When you live in poverty or chaos or isolation, your local school district’s results for standardized tests is not the first thing you think about each morning nor your last thought before sleep at night.

• What surprised you as authors?

Eric & Jane: Although we live and work daily in this world of teachers and parents, we were still a bit taken aback by how ready some adults were to want to sanitize the world of high school, and adolescence in general. We were truly shocked to hear people say things like, “We don’t have that problem at my school.” OK, maybe they don’t, but there does seem to be a pretty big discrepancy between the high school experience the way kids see it and the way some adults see it (or wish it were).

• How can schools use this book?

Eric & Jane: We would love to see a copy in every high school library and every counselor’s office in the world. Also, there is enough “how to” information in this book to make it a perfect candidate for use as a text or resource in a life-skills class or psychology class.

A lot of the content in this book really lends itself to classroom (or counseling group) discussions and activities. We are currently in the process of developing some material for adults to help them use this book in their work with kids and will be posting those ideas on this Web site.

• This book covers a wide range of topics. What are kids struggling with today?

Jane & Eric: Again, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. For some kids, the biggest concern is in juggling a full academic schedule and meeting the demands of a number of different teachers, coaches, extra-curricular activities and, in some cases, jobs on top of that. Some kids are dealing with family issues, and many have family and financial responsibilities (including kids of their own) that we don’t usually associate with kids under 18.

Friends can be a source of enormous support or enormous stress (sometimes both in the same day). School violence, harassment, bullying, racism, exclusion, derision and disrespect by other kids (and sometimes teachers, too) are also issues for large numbers of kids. And let’s not forget body-image issues, sexual pressure and issues of sexual orientation or gender identity. All in all, kids have their plates a lot more full than a lot of adults realize.

Unlike many other books, this book does not just present the problems. It offers resources, advice and room for the readers to work out their own solutions for a given issue, topic or situation. How would you like kids to use this book?

Jane & Eric: We want kids to find hope and humor in this book. We would like them to find answers to their questions and reassurance and validation for their more problematic experiences. We would like kids who read this to feel a sense of being heard, and to know they also have this Web site to turn to for more information or an outlet for their own stories.

We would also like kids to see what high school is like for other kids, to gain an appreciation of the diversity of experiences different kids can have and also perhaps gain an appreciation for other kids they may have written off or made a lot of assumptions about.

• How can parents use this book to improve their relationships with their teenagers?

Eric & Jane: We believe this book will give any reader a glimpse into the world kids live in every day. We had a number of kids write in that parents really don’t understand how much pressure they’re under, or how much sex or violence they’re exposed to on a daily basis. We are hoping this book will help to bridge that gap.

We are also hoping this will book will provide a starting point for some dialogue between kids and parents. Even asking, “Is it like this in your school (or your life)?” and, hopefully, really listening, could enhance the relationship and, presumably, the parents’ appreciation for their kids’ experiences.

• What can educators learn from reading this book?

Jane & Eric: The number one complaint in the list of what kids dislike most about school was “bad, mean, rude, angry or unfair teachers and administrators.” By the same token, and almost as high on the list of things they like about school the most, are “certain teachers” who treat the kids well and make school interesting, safe or fun.

We know, as educators and from working with teachers around the world, that it’s easy to assume that we understand what kids need, and it’s easy to follow in the footsteps of practices and policies that no longer serve (and, indeed, end up creating additional stress for us). We also know that, generally speaking, teachers really do care about their kids as people, and about how their kids are doing, not just in school, but in life and in their heads.

We hope this book will give high school teachers a clearer sense of the high school experience through the kids’ eyes. And in this time of so much pressure to cover content and bring up test scores, we are hoping that this book reminds teachers that we’re teaching kids, not curriculum, and that each body in each seat represents a heart that deserves our respect and concern.

• What do you say to kids who are having a hard time in high school? What can they do to make the time more productive and less painful?

Eric & Jane: Our first thought is anything that will help them hang in: “Yes, it’s real. And no, it won’t always be like this.” We want to tell them that whether high school is good or bad or whatever, that there are certain things they can control or influence by the choices they make. In other words, they can make it better. We believe we have given kids tools, in this book, to help them make their time in high school as productive and positive as they wish. And even if they choose to just put in their time, there are strategies in this book that can help them protect themselves and come out the other end in pretty good shape.

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