Forum: Stress and the High School Experience

Click to view in Wellesley Weston Magazine – Winter 2018/2019

I began to write this on the final day of a long holiday weekend, with the resumption of school looming in the back of my head. Like myself, so many others fall into the habit of procrastination and panic until the last minute, scrambling late into nights to finish essays, projects, and busywork. This homework, alongside arts, athletics, and the college process, all impose an overwhelming feeling of stress.

This has been especially notable in high school students, with my classmates and myself at Wellesley High as prime examples. In fact, according to a survey of 1,200 Wellesley High students, 77 percent of participants reported they were “often” or “always” stressed by schoolwork. Moreover, 46 percent of students “do school,” a term meaning they often work hard but rarely, if ever, find their schoolwork “interesting, fun, or valuable,” according to the study.

Between athletics, arts, and all sorts of extracurricular activities, routinely creating quality work can be an uphill battle with so many responsibilities and involvements. Although my insights will not solve the entirety of these problems, I hope my observations and ideas can help give momentum to a pivotal conversation. We need a simpler, but tangible, solution for how to find the most meaning in the four years of high school.

Without a doubt we can conclude that the college admissions process continues to become more competitive and unpredictable. Not even the top students of a class can find their way into the most prestigious of institutions, yet we still place so much focus on getting into the “best” school. I believe that both students and parents don’t place enough value in searching for the right place for us after high school.

We worry too much about taking the “best” classes and doing the “best” activities so that a few people we may never meet in person can evaluate us on what kind of students we are. While 73 percent of students did report that enjoyment was the primary reason for participating in an extracurricular activity, 15 percent still chose that it “looks good on college applications” as the primary reason. We should always make our best efforts but also direct our energy at the right things for us. In practice, parents and teachers should encourage high schoolers to take some classes and activities that will shape them as people more than what a resume can reflect.

The stressors of a significant amount of homework and expectations to balance has caused the majority of students to be tired from a lack of sufficient eight to 10 hours of nightly sleep. On average, students reported getting about only six and a half hours of sleep per night, with ninth graders reporting significantly more sleep time than 10th through 12th graders. When finding a resolution to dedicating more time to rest and recovery for the next day, social media serves as a hindrance.

Since the internet is now the basis of much of our schoolwork and social interaction, there is no “escaping” school. All around us our cell phones and laptops constantly flash our expectations at us — how well liked our post was and how well a test went are unavoidable stressors when going on our phones. Our modes for entertainment and socializing have now become places to simultaneously face our academic progresses and struggles. When completing homework, 52 percent of students reported they also text and 33 percent use social media, according to the survey. For many, it’s difficult to concentrate on working consistently without the pestering of notification after notification. The added technology keeps distracting our minds and provokes our stresses when it comes to fulfilling these expectations.

I’m not trying to say that the high school experience should be easy or comfortable. Many who read this may wonder to what extent we students are genuinely stressed or whether cravings for Snapchat and Instagram use provoke our anxiety. The added pressures from parents, administrators, technology, and higher education throw high schoolers off the course of a relatively mindful journey at many points in time and hearing their feedback on experiencing high school is crucial to making it valuable.

To make the high school experience more holistic, I don’t think students should take easier classes and do fewer activities, but instead learn to find a unique path and invest their passion and energy into a few opportunities and goals. With that, we can challenge ourselves by exploring new paths of study and finding ways to make our learning meaningful.

Overhauling our schedules for work and activities might not reduce our stresses. We need to learn to target our stress and stressors and embrace them as manifestations of why we care for our goals and expectations. In a collective effort, if we can adjust our mindsets and approaches for high school learning, those near 80 percent of students who said they feel stressed by schoolwork can enjoy more of the challenging journey.

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