A study completed by New York University in 2015 showed that roughly 49 percent of the high school students surveyed reported feeling a “great deal” of stress on a daily basis. The three most common sources of that stress were grades, homework and preparing for college. But does our current education system contribute to this feeling of stress or do teenagers simply not know how to cope with it?
The answer appears to be a mix of both. Over the past decade, academic pressure has increased – colleges are more competitive and the amount of high school students taking high level courses has risen and along with it so have the rates of teen suicide, anxiety and depression.
A Numbers Game:
With the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act (replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act on 2015) in 2001, schools have become increasingly more academic focused. Fewer high schools are offering electives such as woodshop, metalshop or home economics and adding more science, math and English courses.
The result is that far more students are graduating high school, but with fewer vocational skills and more anxiety. Besides that, as college acceptance rates become more competitive, students find themselves taking even more test and classes.
Actually getting into college is, to some degree, nothing more than a numbers game. While the application essays allow students to let some of their personality be seen, students are still at the mercy of their test scores and grades.
“I think that we have created a culture that is so focused on grades because we needed some type of measure to rate a student’s performance and have settled on a grading procedure, although it doesn’t truly take into account a holistic measure of an individual,” Foothill counselor Debbie Freeman said.
In order to “look good” on college applications, students are caught in a cycle of attempting to do as well as they can in as many of the rigorous classes as they can take, while still trying to find time for extracurriculars as well.
“We want to be competitive with the other countries, we need to have high standards and push our kids,” assistant principal Ron Briggs said.
It is not necessarily a bad thing. Busy teenagers are far less likely to get into trouble and learning to balance a busy schedule early on will help them be more successful in later careers.
However, when students begin to get too overwhelmed, their academic performance suffers. It doesn’t matter if they’ve completed their A-G requirements or have taken 5 AP classes if they can’t be successful.
“There are over 4,000 schools in the country,” Foothill counselor Steve Boyd said. “There’s a great school for everyone […]. To be successful kid [you need] to go to the school where you’ll be a happy camper and you will be successful.”
A study completed by the American Psychological Foundation found that 45 percent of high school students were stressed by school pressures. Almost 40 percent, of parents said that their high school student was experiencing a great deal of stress from school and close to 24 percent of those parents said that the stress was a significant issue.
“I do think there needs to be other options […] I think we need more work with actual skills. If you’re going into academia we need to push you hard, but if you want to do something with more vocational [skills], I think the schools need to focus more on that,” Briggs said.
College acceptance is not the only issue putting pressure on high school students, however. Large amounts of homework are taking up much of the students’ free time and often keeping them up late at night.
Roughly 48 percent of teenagers reported having at least three hours of homework a night, with girls likely to report more than boys. On top of that, it was found that 90 percent of all high school students were chronically sleep-deprived.
In addition, as students begin to hit puberty, their internal clocks are programmed to tell them to fall asleep later. Studies show that teenagers need 8-9 hours of sleep a night, but only get about 7 hours or less. This issue is compounded partly by teens staying up too late watching TV or studying, but also by early start times for schools.
Chronic sleep-deprivation has been shown to affect thinking skills and academic performance. Sleep-deprived students are far more likely to become depressed or anxious than those that get enough sleep.
“I feel that our current school system burns out more students than it does to create successful students,” Freeman said, “[it] has many students burning the midnight oil and caring about getting those grades more than learning the material and being healthy, happy teenagers.”
Featured Photo Credit: Clare Knutson/The Foothill Dragon Press