“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” —William James
Today’s students must deal with extremely high expectations—but are all the rankings and test scores becoming too much? Has the education system lost its sense of direction, hindering children’s ability to grow and develop into contributing, healthy members of society?
Within one 2015 study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, nearly half (49 percent) of the students surveyed reported that they experienced high stress levels on a daily basis, and 31 percent reported feeling somewhat stressed. In some cases, this led to both emotional exhaustion and substance use.
Why Are Students So Stressed?
Between homework and the pressures to succeed, many students across the country are struggling to cope with increasing stress levels. This is a subject that has been studied in great detail over the past few years as parents, teachers, and researchers discuss the most effective solutions.
For many children, their day may begin as early as 6 AM. The moment a child opens their eyes, school-related thoughts fill their head as they begin to think about their incomplete homework and, perhaps, the test results they will receive later that day.
According to the American Psychological Association, teenagers have reported stress levels higher than those of adults. Unfortunately, more often than not, parents also underestimate the feelings and emotions that their children are experiencing. And people handle stress differently based on their personalities, as explained in this article on The Influence of Cognition and Personality On Stress.
Fortunately, as public health concerns have continued to develop, raising awareness on adolescent depression and suicide, more parents are beginning to take notice. However, due to GPA scoring and grade-point rankings, many children are still feeling an unfair amount of pressure. Something needs to change.
A Small Suburban High School Leads by Example
Lexington High School, located in Massachusetts, recently took an approach that is spreading like wildfire. Students at this school, as well as many others around the country, were increasingly becoming disheartened and defeated when they received low grades. There was so much pressure to achieve that many students felt anxious and inadequate, even when they received a B grade.
Understanding that increasing pressures to perform are causing too much stress, a group of students transformed a storage area into their own safe haven in order to counteract these negative feelings. The students within this newly renovated “Rock Room” paint rocks that showcase encouraging words and expressions, helping to give students a positive and calming release. These creations quickly piled up, and soon other techniques and coping mechanisms for stress were introduced as well. For instance, elementary students within this hamlet are now learning deep breathing exercises as well as how their brain copes with the effects of stress.
Lexington High School put new homework rules in place and, in order to decrease competition, there are no longer class rankings or valedictorians. As teachers, parents, and board members have worked to become more proactive, anti-anxiety workshops have also been made available.
Help Your Children Cope with Stress
Just remember, some stress can actually be beneficial. We experience a stress response for a reason, and in some cases, where motivation and high levels of focus are required, short-term stress can help students achieve their goals.
With that being said, if your child appears to be experiencing chronic stress levels, here are some actionable tips:
- Maintain consistent, open communication
- Remind them that it’s okay to be imperfect—everyone is unique
- Encourage a balanced lifestyle
- Support positive, creative expression
- Practice relaxation techniques alongside your child in order to create a rewarding experience for both of you
- Spend more time within nature