Positive Parenting Newsfeed—a Child Trends Project—is Supported by the National Science Foundation

High Stress in High School

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Parents, you may look back fondly on high school as a time filled with friends, “Friday Night Lights,” and big dances.  While our kids are still making the same fun-filled milestone memories, studies suggest many of our high schoolers are also feeling more stress than ever before.

Before students ever set foot on a college campus, many have been preparing for years to get there. As the work peaks by high school’s junior year for some, so does the stress.

“You have to decide do I like the SAT or ACT, which would I like better and then you’re taking prep courses, but you’re also trying to keep up with the million jillion classes you’re taking,” said high school senior, Arushi Subba.

Christian Resch, another high school senior, told Ivanhoe, “With that comes the high cost of college and the stress level of actually being smart enough or having a good enough resume to actually get into those higher up institutions.”

Noelle Leonard, Ph.D, is a senior research scientist at New York University. She and her colleagues surveyed students in private high schools and found that half of the students felt chronically stressed. For these students, getting in to a college wasn’t the challenge; it was which one.

“Getting into an Ivy League college, or one of the top ten colleges in the country was really, really important,” stressed Leonard.

Leonard also found that while most students found healthy ways to relieve stress, like spending time with friends or exercising, others were turning to alcohol or drugs.

“Because they felt as if they were taking on adult responsibilities, they deserved to cope like adults,” explained Leonard.

Leonard said while it’s normal for teens to experiment, using substances to cope with stress has been associated with substance abuse problems later in life. Leonard said that all parents, whether their kids attend public or private school, should remind their child that the number one ranked school may not be the best fit. Monitor their activities with friends in caring, age-appropriate ways. Don’t be afraid to seek out mental health care, if a child needs help finding a balance.

“We all know that stress is bad for you in some sense, but also good in that it motivates you to do great things,” said Resch.

Researchers say chronic stress isn’t just a byproduct of college preparation for private school or suburban public school students. Students at high-poverty high schools are also trying to succeed, while facing additional stressors like homelessness, food scarcity, and sometimes, family trauma.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, News Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Kirk Manson, Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

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