How to Simplify Students’ Lives Without Making Them Easier

By Tim Elmore


Jamie teaches English Literature to high school seniors. She’s also a mother of two teens, so she sees the stress levels of young people today from both angles. She knows deep down that kids need a little stress to perform at their best, but she hates witnessing such anxiety in them. 


It’s a common narrative: we see students stress out over both big and small issues, and we try to offer them perspective. There’s a part of us that wants to tell them, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. These problems you’re anxious about will be the least of your worries in ten years.” The other part of us, however, feels badly that they’re enduring such stressful times. 

  • Parents feel worried about their stress levels.
  • Teachers feel guilty about their stress levels. 


We all feel a little confused about exactly how to guide them. 


The Difference between Simple and Easy

It’s important to recognize the psychological difference between simplifying life and making life easier. Nearly every student (and adult, for that matter) should work to simplify their busy and complicated lives today. But nobody becomes the best version of themselves when life is easy. We don’t grow. We don’t learn. We don’t improve.


  1. Simplifying life is about removing unnecessary complexities that stress them out. 
  2. Making life easier is about removing challenges that teens actually need to grow. 


I believe the need of the hour is for caring adults (teachers, coaches, employers, and parents) to enable students to cut back and simplify their complicated lives, but not remove the challenges they must face. Simplifying life means removing the clutter. We should do that. Making life easier means removing the very hardships that enable them to mature and prepare for what’s ahead. To simple, say “yes.” To easy, say “no.” Don’t reduce the difficulty. Reduce the volume. 


Ideas for Teachers

Teachers need not feel guilty for challenging students with tough projects. Teens are ready for meaningful, thought-provoking tasks. These kinds of tasks are important as we prepare students for adulthood. Faculty, staff, and coaches must work, however, to ensure our challenges are clear and simple to understand. Our words compete against Netflix, YouTube, and TikTok. To get through, we must simplify our message and make it crystal clear. 


Here are some tips to simplify life for them:

  1. Clarify your instruction and assignments with simple language and clear examples.
  2. Don’t give them so much homework that it feels like mere busy work to them. 
  3. Offer one significant assignment instead of multiple ones, and debrief when it’s complete. 
  4. Talk about the difference between “simple” and “easy,” and challenge them to embrace what is difficult. Make your goal: This is hard to do, but simple to understand. 


Ideas for Parents

Parents need not worry about issuing chores and challenges around the house. I believe every family ought to divide up what needs to happen to function well, and each member receives age-appropriate tasks. What parents must do, however, is to work with their teens to clear out unessential messes and busyness. My wife and I did not allow our kids to participate in several extracurricular activities as teens. They each chose one and had to finish it to move on to something else. Simplify the schedule and commit to it. 


Here are some tips to do this:

  1. Have them force rank their favorite media platforms and choose one to spend time on. 
  2. Discuss the two-hour rule on social media. This daily limit minimizes anxiety levels.
  3. Have them choose one extracurricular activity each season and commit to it.
  4. Put boundaries on both social and alone time. Teens have varying needs, but limits help.  
  5. Talk about the difference between “simple” and “easy,” and challenge them to embrace what is difficult. Make your goal: This is hard to do, but simple to understand. 


In March 2022, an underwater drone was used to discover the ship Endurance, down on the ocean floor. It had been there a century. The lead expeditioner was Ernest Shackleton, famous for voyaging to the South Pole a century ago on this ship. Shackleton became a leadership legend, beginning with his recruitment ad in the London Times


“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.”

Ernest Shackleton, 4 Burlington Street


Notice that Ernest’s challenge was simple to understand. In fact, undeniably so. He cut to the chase and got straight to the point. There was nothing complicated about his ad. At the same time, he didn’t try to dilute the challenge he offered. The journey would be tough, make no mistake about it. The result? History reveals Shackleton received over 5,000 responses from men (and a few women) who wanted to take on this challenge. 


I believe our younger generations really do want to be challenged by meaningful projects and problems to be solved. What they don’t need is to be overwhelmed with so much information, so many activities, and so much unnecessary busy work that they become flooded. Like Shackleton, let’s help our kids face their challenges by simplifying, but not removing them. 


Every kid deserves to be led well.


How to Simplify Students’ Lives Without Making Them Easier