Today’s students are burdened with an excess of work, overwhelmed by social and cultural pressures to succeed, and feel they are unable to reach the impossible standards of achievement set before them. Many struggle under intense pressure to earn admittance into a reputable university, while others are pushed to engage in an array of academic and athletic pursuits that can hardly be juggled by one person alone. The intense focus on manufacturing a transcript filled with high grades, awards, and remarkable extracurriculars has caused many students to burn out and become resentful. Some students seek solace in the comfort of drugs, while others use drugs as a means of enhancing their grade point averages. Most lack sleep, many sustain poor diets, and few have the time to invest in routine self-reflection which would lead to healing and growth. Students’ collective condition and morale are in a dire state. In order to counteract the effects of the overwhelming stress and pressures which this new generation faces, we must create outlets that are conducive to creative self-expression, physical fitness, and self-care.
The age at which a child first becomes exposed to intensive training and college preparatory material has lowered dramatically from high school students to lower middle school students. Students who are in the midst of their early youth—who should be outdoors and engaged in vital socialization instead have their noses buried in textbooks and SAT prep work per their parents’ instruction. Rather than spending their afternoons at home doing family-oriented activities after school, these students are only focused on getting into University. It has been argued that early academic training of our youth is not even about education, but rather it is meant to quell parents’ anxieties about their children having a competitive edge over other students who are vying for similar positions at well-regarded schools and universities (Elkins, “Much Too Early”). It becomes important to look at other social, cultural, and academic pressures in order to gain an accurate picture of what today’s students are up against, as well as what is at stake.
According to the APA’s 2013 Stress in America Survey, American teenagers surpass adults as being the most “stressed-out” group (Gregoire, “American Teens”). The pressure today’s students are under is also more intense and demanding than that of their parents (Thurmond, “High School Students”). Many of the stresses that students confront stem from “technology that keeps teens working and socializing late at night, depriving them of essential rest; growing obligations from test-prep classes and extracurricular activities; and parents too busy to participate in activities with their families” (Richtel, “Push, Don’t Crush”). Further, suffocating pressures take many forms in students’ lives, ranging from the pressures of “fitting in,” to attempting to surpass others’ accomplishments in what has become an increasingly competitive environment. The most immediate pressure is for a student to earn entry into the “right” school. With little free time left to embrace one’s childhood and simply be a kid, students are distanced from the process of emerging as complete, well-rounded human beings. They often lack a critical awareness of their mental or emotional disposition, which in turn, produces a host of mental and emotional disorders for which they must seek treatment.
From anxiety and depression, to sleep deprivation and ADHD, students are confronted with a multitude of disorders and destructive mental illnesses which compromise their ability to concentrate and succeed in school. Data from the APA’s 2013 Stress in America survey revealed that “30 percent [of teens] say that they feel sad or depressed as a result of stress, and 36 percent report feeling tired or fatigued because of stress” (Gregoire, “American Teens”). Of the students who participated in the study, 42 percent say that they do not have adequate means of managing and coping with their stress. The acute anxiety that many suffer from cripples students’ capacities and, at times, renders them hopeless to effectively engage with and complete their studies. Those who suffer from depression or entertain suicidal thoughts and tendencies are perhaps the greatest victims of the restrictive social, cultural, and academic pressures that tailor their lives. These students feel trapped, isolated, alone, and afraid. While caught up in their fears of disappointing their parents, teachers, or friends, they are also leveled by the force of an intense pressure to overcome their mental or emotional imbalances.
By way of counseling and therapy, many students can and do begin to transform their lives and heal in order to move forward. However, counseling and prescribed medication, which are meant to combat illness and disorders, do not diminish the enormous weight of the pressure students are under. That pressure continues to persist. An added byproduct establishes as an increase in illicit drug and alcohol abuse by students who lack effective coping mechanisms or a means of managing their stress. In a 2007 study conducted by Partnership for a Drug-Free America, 73 percent of teenagers reported that the most significant reason why they use drugs is “to deal with the pressures and stress of school” (Feliz, “National Research”). Many of these students perceive drugs as a source of relief and decompression, while others abuse drugs that enhance their academic performance in order to remain competitive in the midst of other high achievers. Students’ motivations aside, the fact that academic pressures have become so overwhelming that they result in drug abuse and addiction among students who live in fear that they cannot live up to others’ expectations is extremely concerning. It poses serious implications for the nation and society at large.
Despite these alarming truths about the effects of social, cultural, and academic pressures on students, there is hope in the form of healthy stress outlets which form potential solutions. It is critical to students’ health and well-being that they be allowed free time to pursue their passions, interact with their peers, and participate in organized sports or the arts. This means giving time to students devoted to exploration, self-discovery, healthy physical activity, imagination, and creative self-expression, picking up a new hobby or passion, or simply enjoying casual conversations and time with friends. By allowing students to take time out from constantly combating the multitude of pressures that threaten them, the pressures will gradually dissipate and become less apparent. However, it is also necessary that as a society we acknowledge the intense pressures students are under, and embrace a supportive mentality when students struggle or face difficulty. By way of being supportive and allowing students to have outlets from the pressures they face, we will begin to see a generation emerge that is mentally and emotionally balanced.
- Elkind, David. “Much Too Early - Education Next.” RSS. President & Fellows of Harvard College, 19 July 2006. Web. 13 July 2016. .
- Feliz, Josie. “National Research: 73 Percent of Teens Report Number One Reason for Using Drugs Is to Cope with School Pressure.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 4 Aug. 2008. Web. 13 July 2016. <http://www.drugfree.org/newsroom/ national-research-73-percent-of-teens-report-number-one-reason-for-using-drugs-is-to- cope-with-school-pressure-yet-only-7-percent-of-parents-believe-teens-might-use-drugs- to-deal-with-stress/>.
- Gregoire, Carolyn. “American Teens Are Even More Stressed Than Adults.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 13 July 2016. .
- Richtel, Matt. “Push, Don’t Crush, the Students.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 24 Apr. 2015. Web. 13 July 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/26/ sunday-review/push-dont-crush-the-students.html?_r=0>.
- Strauss, Valerie. “Why Kids Shouldn’t Take SAT, ACT Too Early.” The Answer Sheet -. The Washington Post, 30 Sept. 2010. Web. 13 July 2016. <http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ answer-sheet/bruce-vinik/the-dangers-of-taking-sat-act.html>
- Thurmond, Rick. “High School Students Face Growing Challenges and Pressures.” The Sun Chronicle. The Sun Chronicle, 13 May 2000. Web. 13 July 2016. www.thesunchronicle.com/high-school-students-face-growing-challenges-and-pressures/ article_d70dc2c9-9e1e-5f57-b2c0-00f924ed6708.html>
- “Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times Company, 6 Dec. 2000. Web. 13 July 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/06/national/ 07ADMIT-FULL.html?pagewanted=all>.