Academic pressure: “Be kinder to our youth”

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by Grace Ding, Arden Miller, Chloe Quine

According to a professor at California State University, there has “been an uptick in diagnosable anxiety disorders” among teens.

One of the most universal forms is academic stress: intense pressure to perform well, perform better, or even pass.

School bleeds into the rest of students’ lives through the promise of careers, the commodification of hobbies, and mental burnout.

As students go through high school, they are repeatedly asked one question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Secondary students are integrated into a system that sorts them into career pathways. These pathways provide the prerequisites required to pursue post-secondary education.

In effect, students as young as 14 are making decisions that will impact their careers.

In a world where teens are restricted from making political and financial decisions, why is the pressure to step out of high school “career ready” imperative?

Beyond this, there is the pressure of student debt and housing. Despite property prices nearly quadrupling over the past 20 years, when adjusted for inflation, the medium income is almost unchanged.

According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, in 2022, the average price of Canadian housing hit $816,720. This makes building an independent life exceedingly difficult.

The strain for certainty in the teenage years prevents our youth from graduating with self-worth that transcends academic excellence.

Today’s education system puts students on conveyor belts that lead to a predetermined future.

When away from school, students are encouraged to follow their interests and develop new skills.

The common belief is that hobbies enrich the high school experience and offer an escape from daily life, but often, the opposite is true.

In the exacting eyes of resumes and college applications, hobbies only seem to matter when they reach the great successes of fame and awards, which may appear reasonable, but the pressure to win and be “the best” extinguishes any creative flame.

What once may have been a creative outlet soon becomes a lacklustre, award-pandering nightmare.

Personal success should not have to depend on the destruction of passion. Our youths deserve to enjoy their pastimes without worrying about how their interests look on an application.

Youth straining under a full schedule are given a frustrating solution: to just “take a break.”

But oftentimes this is more complicated than less studying, working, or hanging out with friends.

If a student spends less time in the thrall of schoolwork, their marks suffer, and school will rope them into deadline after deadline with the threat of an “unsuccessful” future.

If they choose to cut down employment hours, they risk a tighter financial situation after leaving home and limited work experience. Even spending less time with friends can be detrimental – it can limit a reliable sense of support and relief at the end of a long day.

Letting oneself slip in any of these areas will slam down the gavel of academic, financial, or social loss.

Teens are expected to prepare for adult life at breakneck speed – the minute they fall behind, assignments and expectations pile up.

Overcoming burnout is difficult when recovering students must catch up on the schoolwork that was briefly placed off of the pedestal of priority.

Students’ issues cannot be overlooked under the guise of “having it easier.” Juggling academics, hobbies, and mental health is a tightrope walk seen as normal, despite the overwhelm it produces.

To any teenagers struggling, you are not alone in your battle. Find opportunities to lift academic pressure off of your shoulders.

Set simple, attainable goals and be proud when you achieve them. Look to your school’s support staff, online, or local mental health resources for help.

Most of all, remember that you cannot be defined by numbers.

Be kinder to our youth.

  • Kids Help Phone for 24/7 youth mental health resources:
  • Website: kidshelpphone.ca
  • Text: 686868
  • Call: 1-800-668-6868

Arden Miller (Grade 11), Grace Ding (Grade 10), and Chloe Quine (Grade 10), are Mackenzie Community School students who are very passionate about social justice, activism, and education on current events. This is their first column for the NRT.

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