Back to School

It's that time again. The start of the school year brings excitement and anticipation--as well as anxiety, fear, and loathing.

Back to School: Let the Stress Begin!

Strap on your seat belts for a turbulent ride through another school year

I don’t know about you but as a parent of a teenager I’m pretty nervous about back to school this year as my son enters the notorious junior year in high school. The pressure seems enormous. Not only are college bound students expected to do well in school academically by getting top grades in challenging classes but they are pressured to do so much more both in and outside of the classroom too. Plus, they are expected to prepare diligently for P-SATs, SATs, and know exactly where they want to go to college (assuming they get in to their desired choices). Cottage industries have emerged to help (at a very high price) select and apply to colleges as well as prepare for all the required standardized testing. Perhaps living here in Silicon Valley I live in a high achievement Type A bubble but I’m hearing about these pressures from friends and colleagues throughout the country.

As a college professor, I have to admit that it saddens me very much to see students arrive at college already burned out at age 18. I always ask my college students if high school was harder and more pressured than college and universally they say yes! Pressure to get top grades, take AP everything, top out on the SAT, and by the way, start an orphanage half way across the world seems to be the expectation. High expectations are important but I wonder if we are burning out our children in doing so.

As a practicing psychologist I certainly see the signs of dysfunction in youth who are products of these pressure cooker environments. Problems such as poor peer and family relationships, alcohol and substance abuse, stress related disorders, eating disorders, and the like seem too common. And of course, anxiety and depression are just par for the course. One local high pressure high school has had a number of suicides in recent years that has received local and national attention. 

Our culture has evolved in a way to put a great deal of pressure and expectations on youth but I wonder what the cost might be for doing so. I also don’t know how to alter this cultural shift. Seems like the train has left the station on this one. 

So, strap on your seat belts for a turbulent ride through another school year. Let the stress begin!

So, what do you think?  

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