Teenage Stress

I interviewed an administrator at an elite private school yesterday for an article yesterday. He mentioned the enormous stress that the kids are under in their first semester senior year as they submit their college applications. I agreed and inserted our own stories about Jonah’s college application process last year.

Some kids aren’t handling things well.

7 thoughts on “Teenage Stress

  1. The 7th grader’s Latin teacher sent a mass emailing saying that the 7th grade class seems especially anxious about grades (like anything less than a 98 or 99) and he wanted us parents to talk to our kids about the dangers of perfectionism.


  2. I think there is a strong case Not.To.Have.Grades.At.All.Ever.


    But few people are willing to along with it, and there can be unintended consequences that can shift some of the stresses elsewhere. As homeschoolers, we have had far fewer grades than someone in a conventional high school, but that has, someone ironically, made the standardized test scores more important for college admissions. If an entity wants to use third-party metrics, that is what they are going to use.

    We are working through some of the college applications stress right now.


  3. Well, if your child is collapsing under the weight of school, obviously he or she should leave school. The typical UMC kid can get a minimum wage job, even without a high school diploma, until he or she is ready to step once more into the breach. When our daughter was very unhappy at college (it was not academic stress but social problems), I told her that she could come home, get a job, and take as long as she wanted to reassess and reapply. In the end that wasn’t necessary, but it would have been okay.

    But I don’t know how to make the stress of UMC life go away. I’m 59 and it hasn’t gone away.


  4. We live in the world of no grades. Grades can be thoroughly corrupting. But, as you say, no grades just puts the comparative competition elsewhere. I think it’s here that a commenter mentioned the impossibility of trying to rank order the performance of students at schools like Harvard, where an occasional student might be amazing, but many students are solidly excellent. Hence the average grade of A- which does no duty towards differentiating among the students.

    Then, as mostly lurking points out, students have to invest in differentiating themselves across other lines, in some cases on difficult to evaluate dimensions. Clearly that causes stress and anxiety.

    I think the students described are having mental health issues, though and am not entirely certain of the role the environment is playing for them.

    The environmental role seems more important for those who are coping but making choices that don’t fit them.


    1. bj said:

      “We live in the world of no grades. Grades can be thoroughly corrupting.”

      Our anxious (and very conscientious) 7th grader currently has either 99s or 100s (extra credit). It’s an open question whether he might be less anxious without grades.

      His 10th grader sister has more varied grades. I’ve gotten a lot of information out of her lower grades the last few years, but it requiring listening to what the grades are saying. Here are some of the things I’ve gotten out of the low ones:

      –hard new subject, not getting it yet
      –need to put in more work
      –forgotten or late assignments

      In those cases, the numbers have often come up over the course of the term.

      Alternately, sometimes unusually low grades signal a teacher problem. For example, I eventually realized (due to C having a second teacher in the same subject), that the first teacher had probably been mis-grading her assignments because of unfamiliarity with the subject and not realizing that her answers were correct alternatives. (Husband teaches an advanced version of the class.)

      This term, likewise, C has an 88 in a class where the teacher (a rookie) has been spending whole periods lecturing. In my head, I’m like, “Dude, how can you figure out if the kids are learning anything if you don’t stop and TALK to them?” but I don’t see myself saying that. Also, C would not be pleased with me.

      So, at least for C, I’ve gotten a lot of diagnostic value from grades–it’s just that I don’t always have a realistic course of action.

      C is currently at an age where she prefers suffering injustice or incompetence to having me do anything about it or speaking up herself. Which, one considers the Weinstein thread, is concerning.


  5. OMG. That article has been my life for the past two years.

    I used to be everyday reader here at 11d, and more of a commenter, until THIS EXACT ISSUE hit my family like a ton of bricks. That article is spot on for me and a weird number of my friends and a weird number of my children’s friends. And I’m a bit of an introvert and don’t really have a lot of parenting friends.

    I honestly think this is an epidemic.

    My older daughter, 19 and a sophomore at college, almost seems like a different generation than my 15-almost-16 year olds when it comes to stress. She might have had a few friends who saw therapists, but none who had IEPs for anxiety. She–my older daughter–has never even seen a therapist.

    But when my twin 15 year olds where finishing up middle school, it seemed like friend after friend was going through this particular partial hospitalization program and coming out with IEPs for anxiety and/or depression. Then they did it, too. The first of our twins to go to partial WANTED to, and had been asking to go for months. Her therapist didn’t think she needed to. Finally the therapist agreed that she wasn’t going to move forward until we sent her, so we did. Then out of the blue the twin who seemed to have no problems had an absolutely disastrous year and a half. Details I will not tell here but it is a saga.The saga appears to have ended, at least for the moment. Fingers crossed. All of it was anxiety, BTW. Exactly as the article said. It’s good it wasn’t depression, which is what I remember being more prevalent back in my day. But it is a very toxic anxiety, and it masquerades as depression and other disorders too. There’s a lot of overdiagnosis and overtreatment, people throw around terms like bipolar even when there’s no mania and not even really any depression. It’s very confusing. I am so thankful for psychiatrists who remain cautious and careful and watchful and just plain smart about it. And my mother-in-law, who did the same.

    In neither of their cases was the issue social, though I know this is true in other cases. They both have good friends, don’t hang out with the party crowd–never been to a “party” yet, either of them–and I know all their friends, they generally hang out at our house. The issue does appear to be academic pressure, though we are not the ones who pushed them. Seriously. My oldest is going to Temple and wants to be an elementary school teacher. We don’t push.

    I agree with the article–the pressure is self-imposed. The grade checking, the fellow students who seem–emphasis on SEEM– to find everything effortless. The insane teachers, the excessively high standards, the endless meritocracy. In eight grade, they were in geometry. That was fine, but the class was also accelerated. There was no non-accelerated geometry class in the middle school (in the high school, yes). Very accelerated, teaching things normally not taught in geometry, according to my private school math-teaching husband. But what could we have done–they had already taken algebra, there was no other class for them to take! I honestly think that class was part of the cause of everything. Both twins had essentially perfect grades until that year, that class. And through going to partial, the one twin avoided having to finish that class (the schools collaborate with the hospitalization programs, and agree to waiving work, and it was almost the end of the year).

    Now that twin is a sophomore, taking pre-calc honors, and acing every test without much effort. Exactly why did that eighth grade class have to be that hard? Why? It basically made her give up on middle school completely!

    And this is what the parents of their friends are saying, and parents who are my friends. Something is happening. It’s partly our kids, but it’s not entirely them. As the high schools add more and more mental health specialists, as they create more support rooms in the high schools, as they track kids into therapeutic schools and pay for them, and as those kids move onto college and have IEPs that establish their need for emotional support services, I think we’ll all be hearing a lot more about this.


  6. I think one of the issues is that in the environment some of these kids find themselves in, there really are kids who can do extraordinary work. And every kid in the running tries to match that kid. And kids who are extraordinary at one thing think they have to be extraordinary at everything.

    My kiddo told me that her foreign born teacher had the kids grade each other’s work (practice work — not contributing to any evaluation today with their names on it. They were shocked. Because they are all constantly judging and trying to figure out what everyone else is doing, and they are generally clueless.


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