If parents ask their children how their day at school was, the typical answer is “fine” or “good.” But if close friends were to have a similar conversation, the response may contain a rant about a certain class, how busy each day feels, or how stress is at an all time high: school and grades and sports and college and finances and oh my gosh what if I don’t get into medical school?! Most high schoolers I know would say they are stressed, tired and busy. Why do so many teens feel this way, and what has changed in the school environment to cause these feelings?
High school in the 60s, 70s and 80s seems idyllic. To someone from our generation, high school back then seemed fun. Imagine riding around in a bright red car, going to drive- ins, trying to fit in with the jocks and thinking about who you were going to ask to the dance. Teens lived simple teenaged lives. While that image might only be a Hollywood-esque stereotype, it still shows the contrast between then and now. Imagine a present-day high school: kids rush from an AP class to a dual-enrollment class, wondering how they are going to study for the ACT when they have swim practice, and then three hours worth of APUSH homework. Thirty-one percent of teens report that their stress increases throughout the school year, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Thirty percent of teens say they feel depressed or sad, and a third of all teens report feeling tired or fatigued. There are more studies by the APA, which show that stress levels experienced by teens rival that of adults. In addition to stress and anxiety caused by school, teens also have to cope with social pressures and hormonal changes. An article in The Washington Post says “rapid growth spurts, periods, acne and unreliable vocal cords can all add to a feeling of being out of control, which can trigger a cycle of anxiety and depression in teens.”
Students are trained from the beginning of their education to prepare for what lies ahead. In Todd School, students adjust to being in school and prepare for a middle school environment. In the middle school, students prepare for the workload of high school. One might logically assume that in high school the goal is to prepare for college. However, high school is becoming more and more like college, so much so that the workload of many high-achieving students rivals that of freshman in college. While this can be a good thing, it also has its drawbacks. The pressure of a college-level curriculum on students who are also battling the anxiety of getting into college and are growing up at the same time is not a good combination.
The system likely is not changing anytime soon. It is important to be able to cope with these pressures and to be able to control and understand your stress. Dr. Brown, Briarcliff High School psychologist, advises students to seek help if they feel overwhelmed.
“Don’t go at it alone,” Brown said. “Seek out a trusted adult (parent, teacher, coach, counselor) who can help you sort things out. Adults are objective; they can give you practi- cal, unbiased views on a situation and give you strategies to ease anxi- ety and stress. While teens will say it’s always more comfortable to talk with their friends, friends might have their own things going on and may be unable to give you the objectivity you may need. Plus, when you go to a friend they will support you (which is what they’re supposed to do – they’re your friend) and may only look at things from one side – your side.”