Have you ever heard your parents say how they would love to be a kid again? I know I have and that’s when I tell them that they may want to think twice about it. Growing up in the world today, where social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram rule every teen or tween’s waking moment, is much different than the carefree days when my parents were young. In fact, as middle school and high school students are finding out, there really isn’t a lot of time in the day to relax at all if you want to succeed in today’s world.
Stress is definitely at the top of the list of issues facing students today. The competition is fierce to gain admission to the top colleges and not only must students have excellent grades, but they also need to fulfill community service hours, along with being well-rounded athletes and artists. Add to that the massive amount of homework, projects and tests and there is barely enough time to sleep. Still think it’s great to be a kid again?
While stressed out kids work hard at school, there is another factor in their lives that keeps them busy as well. It is the social part of being a teenage student, which may be even tougher than the classwork. Many middle school students are just coming into adolescence, where fitting in with the cool crowd and feeling accepted by classmates can make or break you. This is also a time when physical appearance becomes very important and insecurities prevail. Middle school is also where bullying, gossiping and cyber bullying usually begin and may continue through high school. As students mature and move on, you would think that issues of popularity and needing to belong to a group would lose importance, but unfortunately that is not the case.
“Adolescence is a time for both tremendous growth and development but also a time for increasing risk and vulnerabilities,” says Dr. Summer Sullivan, a licensed psychologist with the South Miami Psychology Group. Sullivan says while many of the relevant issues teens are facing today differ depending on factors such as socioeconomic status and geographic location, she has noticed a disturbing trend. “One of the most concerning issues I have observed teens facing today seem to be related to the effects technology and social media have on teens,” she says. Sullivan goes on to mention a specific increase in depression, technological addictions, cyberbullying, low self-esteem and feelings of isolation among others.
That feeling of isolation, you could say, is a bi-factor of stress all this cyber-living is causing among today’s young people. The overuse of technology, such as social media and video games, is an issue affecting all of society. Westminster Christian School High School Counselor Lyle Green hears directly from students about the issues of social media and says that the fake relationships in social media have many students feeling lonely. Green says kids need to learn how to establish and maintain authentic, interpersonal social connections, adding that it is important for young people to learn how to be in touch with each other, face to face. Green stresses that “emotional intimacy outside the context of artificially contrived relationships within social media,” is very important to overcoming loneliness.
Technology can also be a double-edged sword according to Palmetto Middle School student Nick Zambolla, who says cell phones are useful tools. “They help us keep in touch and socialize and they help us with school, but sometimes they can take up too much of our time,” he says. For example, as Zambolla says “Games like Fortnite are so fun that they can get you addicted and waste a lot of time.” While in the past, kids spent their free time outside, weekends are now spent binging on Netflix, or watching hours of YouTube videos, habits that can lead to hours in bed, isolated from the outside world.
Another big issue that is weighing heavily on kids today is the stress of trying to balance all their responsibilities. Ask any middle or high school student if they get too much homework and the answer will most likely be a resounding yes! But it’s not just the homework, projects, and tests. Add the after-school sports and it seems there is no downtime to simply hang out with friends or families. “It puts a lot of pressure on us and sometimes it stresses us out to keep track of it all,” says Zambolla. As a rising senior at Westminster Christian School, Sabrina Campos agrees that besides keeping up with the amount of schoolwork and activities, one must be at the top of the class to beat the competition to get into a top-notch college. The stress only builds when students also face tuition costs, Campos says. “Unfortunately, [it feels like] colleges prioritize early decision applicants who can pay the tuition without a problem, leaving some students out of the picture,” she explains. “Students face a lot of stress in the admission process and feel a sense of failure when they do not get into their dream school.”
Besides dealing with academic stress, many students have to deal with social stress. Peer pressure to fit in with the cool crowd or with the right group can mean the difference between being invited to the cool parties or not. Unfortunately, it also means sometimes doing things you wouldn’t necessarily do. For many students, drinking or smoking is the outcome of peer pressure. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 63.2 percent of high school students reported drinking alcohol at least once, while 37.7 percent of high school seniors reported being drunk in the past year. Like students everywhere, Campos says she has seen her share of her peers partying too hard. “I find it heartbreaking when I see students my age consuming drugs and excessive alcohol,” says Campos. “They resort to drugs and alcohol as a source of happiness. Not only is their health affected, but also their future success.” And new trends are popping up all the time. “Juling,” a form of vaping, is sweeping through schools across the nation. It’s easy to hide as students can sneak a puff in their car or the bathroom and then return to class without anyone finding out.
Unfortunately, vaping at a young age only opens the door to other gateway drugs.
Managing peer pressure is something that many young people need to work at by setting strategies for themselves, such as knowing where they stand on the issues of sex, alcohol or drugs. Surrounding themselves with friends who have the same moral standards is also a way to stay away from the wrong crowd. Not succumbing to peer pressure takes a lot of self-confidence and self-esteem, but in the end the outcome will be a better one.
So, if you’re a parent reading this article, give your kid a break and a pat on the back for growing up in this much tougher, complicated world. And if you’re a student reading this, take a deep breath and try to stop and smell the roses once in a while. I know I am.
Maier is a 17-year-old rising senior at Westminster High School who plans on majoring in Journalism in college. She currently is in the National English Honor Society, National Music Honor Society, President of Heartstrings Orchestra Club and High School Ambassador for His House Children’s Home. She is also in her school Honors Chamber Orchestra and in High School Choir. She also is a Varsity Volleyball Player for Westminster and plays travel volleyball for Miami Elite.