Millions of children around the world would give anything for an education. The opportunity to learn new information every day and develop the skills necessary to become a successful human being is widely recognized as invaluable.
Yet, a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that nearly 45 percent of 1,206 respondents between the ages of 8 and 17 identify school pressures as a source of stress.
The study also found that patterns of stress found in adults are now seen in adolescents: sleep deprivation, lack of exercise and poor eating habits. And, stress also creates irritability, anger, nervousness, anxiousness and can even lead to clinical depression.
Peter Gray, who has conducted research in developmental and educational psychology, wrote in an article for Psychology Today, “Our system of constant testing and evaluation in school … it is a system that is almost designed to produce anxiety and depression.”
How could something as beneficial as education have harmful effects?
One problem that seems to be all too common is that students often feel pressure to excel.
Dr. Maria Cartagena, a partner at Suburban Psychiatric Associates in Amherst, said, “For many students, a great deal of their identity at this point surrounds their performance in academic and extracurricular activities … To have stringent and sometimes unrealistic expectations can eventually lead to anxiety symptoms and depressive symptoms.”
From kindergarten, students are taught that they have to put their best foot forward in order to be successful.
By high school, however, the idea of putting your best foot forward often evolves into pushing yourself almost to the breaking point. Fluctuating between the two, however, does not promote a healthy lifestyle.
High schoolers often end up prioritizing school over social activities and sleep, both of which have been proven to play an essential role in development. Students also compromise their physical health; for example, attending school even when they are sick, in fear of missing an important lesson.
Each day of the week has a limited number of hours, and students often fail to finish everything they believe they need to within those hours. They often feel there is not enough time in the day to maintain ideal grades and eat full meals, spend time with family and friends, read a book or just relax.
Melanie Orffeo, a sophomore at Clarence High School, said, “We’re at school for seven hours a day and get at least an hour to two hours of homework per night, and that’s not including the time we lose to do that homework by participating in school clubs, sports, etc. Teachers expect a lot more from us than we can give.”
Students aren’t the only ones who recognize this.
Kathy Bailey, a global history and AP psychology teacher at Williamsville East High School, said, “I wish you even had leisure time to figure out who you are, but because of the pressures of school, you don’t have leisure time. You don’t have the ability to even form a sense of identity … Instead, it’s ‘oh my God, I have this, this and this to do.’ That’s concerning.”
High school students know the phrase “it looks good on college applications” all too well. There is such a strong emphasis on getting good grades and loading up on extracurricular activities. And teens are taught that a high GPA and long résumé are the keys to getting into competitive colleges.
“There’s this pressure … to be a well-rounded student and do a bunch of extracurriculars and do a sport … you’re just physically and mentally drained,” said Sally Yi, a 2014 graduate of Williamsville East High School who is now a freshman at Harvard College.
School becomes little more than tests, quizzes, essays and cramming facts into your brain just to write them down on paper and later forget. Students learn how to master tests rather than subject material. High school becomes more of an audition for college, rather than preparation for the future.
“I spend the majority of the school day sitting and listening to a teacher talk, which in my opinion isn’t training me to go out in the world and be creative,” said Thomas Hughes, a freshman at Nichols High School.
Most high schoolers are becoming more concerned with grades and résumés than learning information and growing as a person.
Morgan Awner, a sophomore at Williamsville East High School, said, “The end result of school should be an education, not a perfect transcript and college application.”
Sarina Divan is a sophomore at Williamsville East High School.