By: Fauzia Haque, Contributing Writer
“Ugh, I’m ranked 70 out of our entire class. I won’t get accepted to any of the colleges I want to go to, and I’ll be a disgrace to my entire family. You have to help me.”
That’s a conversation I had with a friend just this month. The stress to be this perfect student is deeply engraved into students’ minds that it’s so hard to just focus on being a kid or having fun, especially in high school. The constant stress of needing to go to an Ivy League or one of the best universities out of the top 30 within the country is so rampant that typical high schoolers can never really focus on enjoying high school for all of its other aspects. Colleges email us left and right, and we have to decide right then and there as to what we want to do in the future when most of us really don’t have a clue. On top of that, most parents tend to add to an adolescent’s stress by emphasizing how much they want their students to excel by getting straight A’s, becoming valedictorian, student body president, a varsity athlete, and going to Harvard University all in one. These intense expectations from our parents and ourselves lead to academic burnout and disinterest and for adolescents to develop severe mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. Don’t get me wrong; it’s never bad to create goals for yourself. Those goals can help you become so much more efficient and productive towards earning the things you want effectively, but the intense stress and pressure you might put on yourself just to achieve these goals might not even be worth it in the long run. It could actually be adversely affecting you, physically, socially, and especially mentally.
The National College Health Assessment reports that more than 40 percent of college students undergo severe levels of stress. Academic burnout occurs when students experience an intense degree of stress that leads to them ultimately giving up in all aspects of their life due to their extreme exhaustion because of all the commitments they may take on and the pressure accompanied with it. Academic burnout can lead to severe mental disorders like anxiety, depression, and even eating and sleeping disorders. The intense amounts of stress can be a significant discouragement not only for college students but also for high school students, to carry on with their academic pursuits and other areas of their personal lives.
Parental Expectations & School Ranks:
Many students struggle with the incapability of handling everything on their shoulders: their parents’ expectations, social lives, the “perfect student” image, and going to the best secondary education institution. Parental expectations regarding academic performance resonate heavily throughout a student in not only their academic career but also within almost every aspect of their personal lives. The degree of intensity within parental expectations may vary, but it never alleviates the stress an adolescent may feel when going back to school because they have to ensure perfection. Child Trends reports that the highest and most severe expectations for academic success come from Asian and Pacific Islander parents, and just most immigrant families overall compared to US-born families. Most parents also expect more from their daughters than from their sons, and household income level plays heavily into parental expectations for higher education and what a student perceives that they may or may not be able to achieve. Adding on to all these expectations, students also carry the stress of being the “best.” For some parents, earning straight A’s and being involved may not be enough; their child may have to be valedictorian as well. School ranks have shown to deteriorate a student’s confidence in their academic performance by dehumanizing them to a number in comparison to the multitude of other students within their class. The superficiality has never been acknowledged within high school class rankings, especially since its prominence within college applications decreases as fewer high schools provide a rank. A number does not define a student’s intelligence nor capability as most school rankings are based on the honors point average rather than the grade point average. In schools that foster unhealthy and almost toxic amounts of competition for their students, it can get hard to focus on learning or the other aspects of school and get hardwired into being number one consistently.
Combining all of the above factors inflicts intense amounts of stress on adolescents that may not even know how to handle such significant degrees of pressure and stress. Students consistently report being concerned about receiving a bad grade and bearing massive amounts of academic-related stress. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that 66% of students across 72 different countries dread bad grades, 55% may have a bad case of test anxiety, and 37% of students, more often girls than boys, report extreme anxiety while studying. These statistics illustrate just how heavily academics can impact an adolescent’s mental stability and wellbeing. The OECD showcases further how students with these excessive amounts of stress negatively affect their physical and mental healths and their personal lives and futures.
My Personal Experiences:
“You’re going to be fine. You’re spreading yourself out too thin to even focus on anything else,” I said to my friend in response to her worry about college. I told her all of this even though I had the same concerns, but I knew it would help her feel better.
I had my own raw experiences regarding my parents’ expectations of me and the ones I even have for myself. Growing up, I always had to be the best. Even now, I still have to be the best. I enjoy having these expectations for myself; it gives me a purpose, but I will admit that the intense amounts of work I have to do and the added pressure from my family and school can get overwhelming that sometimes I do want to give up. Studying and even simply going to class makes me have a great deal of anxiety, even while we’re doing it virtually here. I am always afraid that I will say something wrong that taints me as imperfect or unintelligible to my classmates and teachers. I also have to constantly think about what I can do this year that will look good on my college resume and will ensure that I get into some of the top colleges, and on top of that, I have to be aware of my financial capabilities that may limit my ability to go to certain colleges. I know that everything above is a list of grievances for me in terms of stress, but I also know that all this stress is unhealthy. I realized how important it was for me to take a break and enjoy space away from school or the things that give me anxiety and stress. It is so important to give yourself time to process and recompose so that you can be effective and efficient with your academic life and your future endeavors.
I recommend activities that foster creativity away from the focus of school. Sometimes, I take a break from the screen or homework and go drive or paint. Doing these activities seems almost like an escape to me, and I think that it is essential to have that because you can clear your head in a much better way. Allow yourself an option that gives you an “out” that doesn’t signify giving up, but taking a break to tackle dilemmas stronger. Even though it can be challenging, have those conversations with your parents that allow them to acknowledge the stress you face from your perspective and so that they can realize that their intense expectations may be hurting you more than helping. Realize that coming out on top doesn’t ensure a set path to the rest of your life, and instead focus on your wellbeing within the present.