Stressed out how High School and Parental Pressure Push the Tolerance Level of Adolescent Stress

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Imagine yourself in this situation: You are a high school student, and a typical day includes waking up at 6:00 AM. After spending a day in school, you have to get ready for volleyball practice. Afterward, you go home and receive chores along with the 3 hours of homework you already received that day. Finally, your parents yell at you for your grade on the most recent math test. By the time you get to bed, you have enough time for about a 5 hour night of sleep.

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While yes, this may seem like the extreme case scenario, many high schoolers today deal with this amount of pressure more often than not. Although it seems as if this amount of stress is unlikely, high school today along with parental pressure to succeed pushes students to their limit. The American high school education system places the maximum amount of stress on students today, and the role of parental pressure adds an unnecessary amount of additional anxiety that pushes the threshold of adolescent stress tolerance.

The American High School education system today maximizes student stress levels on adolescents in an attempt to overall prepare them for their future. In a survey given to 95 high school seniors on stress levels, 98.9% of participants claimed that school was the main stressor in their life (Amen and Reglin 28). There are several different factors within high school education that aid in adding to the pressure. First, schools place too much focus on the importance of the grade itself rather than the quality of education. Often times, the quality of the education students received is sacrificed in an attempt to foster success on a numerical scale. One male student agreed with this, saying, “”I am always worrying about my grades I’ll just learn what I need to know to get a good grade. I won’t be interested in it. I’ll just be interested in the grade (Leonard). When schools stress the importance of a good grade, adolescents lose sight of learning and shift their focus towards memorization for a more tangible goal. This goal, while tangible, only harms students in the future because they do not gain quality education, but rather they gain the skill of memorizing for a short period. The stress high schools today put on students to get high markings often causes school to take over much more than just a students’ life within the limits of the building itself. Not only does the school pressure kids during school hours, but they also pile on large amounts of homework in an attempt to increase grades.

Although giving an increased amount of homework to boost student success seems reasonable, this takes away from the students’ time to relieve pressure each night. According to Alexandra Robbins book, “”The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Teens, the American public does not realize the amount of pressure students face (Wike and Horowitz). Students stress tolerance levels are constantly pushed by the increasing standards of society, and often it is overlooked by our culture just how stressed high school students are. This ignorance of the public, in turn, explains how students could possibly be given so much homework each night, taking away from needed relaxation time. In an NYU survey, about 50% of students reported at least 3 hours of homework a night (NYU). In another survey conducted about school-related stress, similar results were found, suggesting that students spend a large amount of their evening doing homework. Combining the minimum of 3 hours of homework with the average 1-2 hours of sports or extracurriculars, that takes away time from de-stressing as well as time to sleep. When adolescents focus nightly on getting homework done, school takes over outside of school hours, adding on pressure that students will then face.

Many may argue that sports and extracurriculars are de-stressors in adolescent life, yet it has often been reported that students cannot participate in these activities due to large amounts of academic commitment. In one study it was found that “”…“ of their sample reported dropping out of an enjoyable activity, something that would reduce stress, simply due to overwhelming academic stress (Jones and Hattie 4). The amount of stress is so overwhelming on students that they cannot take time from schoolwork at night to relax. Taking away these enjoyable activities as mentioned in the study prevents adolescents from taking a deep breath, getting in daily physical activity, and de-stressing from a long day of school. One student suggested that the only reason he stresses about non-academic stressors is that “”it takes away from the time [he has] to do school work in (Leonard). By schools adding on the stress of hours of homework, they increase the amount of stress on other parts of students’ lives due to the overbearing weight school brings on. If schools lowered the amount of added schoolwork given to complete at home per night, adolescent students would be able to enjoy other activities. When student downtime is bombarded with hours of homework and added stress after school hours, this takes a toll on students’ mental health.

Over the past 3 years, the number of students receiving counseling for mental health has increased (Novotney). As the amount of homework given each night increases, student anxiety, and stress levels increase as well. Both physical and psychological issues begin to occur. One student described “”emotional exhaustion as a feeling of lethargy or immobilization in response to feeling overwhelmed (NYU). If students feel this periodic weakness simply as a response to overwhelming stress, the pressure schools place on students should clearly be reevaluated. If added hours of school homework expand stress that is so extreme that students’ health is affected, the lack of student downtime to de-stress should be increased to help prevent further damage. While high schools give excess work which takes a toll on students’ health, it is often difficult for schools to stop this when they are pressured by the high demands of college applications. High schools place significant amounts of added stress on students simply because of the struggles they face with the growing difficulty of college acceptance. Schools intensify their curriculum to aim for a higher future success rate in students and to keep up with the changing times. “”Private schools have reacted by providing more difficult classes, college-level classes, and requiring extracurricular activities (NYU). While many schools may suggest that these are completely optional for all students, the underlying pressure caused by the academic environment indeed pushes students to participate in the above mentioned. It has also been found that in an attempt to boost student success by grouping according to performance, students’ stress is highly increased. Some studies suggest that at least …” of participants feel a significant increase in pressure when grouped by performance (Armacost 108). While high schools may think this will benefit the student, studies suggest these tactics do more harm than good. Adolescents in high school today receive the maximum amount of stress placed on them due to several factors contributing to the overall environment in school, and despite the belief that students are the issue, high schools challenge the threshold of tolerance for these students.

Although it has been established that schools place the maximum amount of pressure on adolescents today, the role of parents produces an increased level of stress beyond that which most teenagers can handle. It has been found that “”academic stress appears to be a problem primarily when expectations far exceed capability (Jones and Hattie 5). Often there are parents who have unrealistic expectations, causing their children to stress in fear of falling short. The amount of pressure that students receive from this feeling exceeds the limit of which most are able to hold. One student said they feel a “”great deal of pressure from parents to get good results at school (Jones and Hattie 10). This pressure, while seemingly encouraging in some aspects can add unnecessary stress to the adolescents’ academic scope. It was even found that “”students perceived this inability to attain a high level of performance across all school-related activities as parental criticism (Leonard). If an adolescent feels criticized by parents, they will begin to take that to heart and, in many cases, will also add pressure onto themselves to reach higher standards.

Often parents may be focused solely on the future of the student, yet when too much pressure is added it becomes difficult to focus on the present tasks at hand, therefore increasing stress. “”Parental pressure for academic achievement is typically inextricably tied to gaining acceptance to a selective college or university (Leonard). Due to increasing demands to get into a good college, parents are more likely to demand that their child takes AP classes even if they are aware of their child’s limitations. Students who are forced by parents into a higher paced learning environment than their limit will be more likely to lose track of the assignments and in turn actually do worse, despite what the parents’ expected. This constant focus on the future of the adolescent can actually cause them to do worse in high school because they are never satisfied, leaving them constantly stressed to do better. Although student stress can come primarily from parents, it can also be seen that parent-school relation and communications influence parents to become even stricter on their students. Children today are aware of the parents’ expectations towards the school and this, in turn, pressures them to live up to these expectations. One study found that “”teachers and administrators noted that some parents express that they expect a great deal from the school and their children because they are paying a substantial amount of tuition (Leonard). Qualitative results of this study also suggested that students’ understand and are able to sense the pressure of parental expectations from the school.

While it is understandable for parents to expect quality education out of a school they pay a substantial amount for, there is a fine line between what a school considers quality education and what parents perceive it as. A school may be setting up a child for their future by allowing them to learn material at a pace comfortable for them, yet parents will suggest that quality education is only seen through tangible results, such as a university diploma or a transcript with a high GPA. This discrepancy along with the unrealistic expectations of parents causes an extreme increase in pressure on students. Yet, the communication seen between parents and schools regarding student issues can easily lead to “”discouraging conversations, criticisms, or punishments from parents (Fan and Williams 69). If parents punish their children for academic failures, students are less likely to push themselves due to defeat. While parents may believe this will motivate students to do better in the future, this could affect children psychologically as well as prevent students from growing self-confidence. Encouraging words to students are always welcomed and could help reduce stress, but the slightest hint of criticism or disappointment within the tone of the parent speaking allows failure to be ingrained within adolescent minds. If a student believes he or she is a failure, stress will be added to do better so that they are no longer a disappointment, and this cycle places excess pressure on students.

When dealing with the effects of parental pressure on students, it is difficult to define the line between encouraging and detrimental behaviors on behalf of the parents. Yet, pressure from parents can negatively push students to add stress onto themselves due to perceived stress from the parents. While school does prove stressful on students, parental pressure pushes through the limit of stress students’ can healthfully hold, and it causes excess stress to be placed on these students every day. Many suggest that this parental pressure positively affects students and believe that students are not bearing the substantial amount of weight that school does bring on. Many today believe that students do not receive nearly the amount of pressure that was once placed on students. “”According to a Pew Global Attitudes survey, Americans think parents are not pushing their children hard enough (Wike and Horowitz). While there are several parents who foster academic success in a healthy way rather than bombarding students with added unnecessary pressure, children today are pushed to the limit by academic stress. In contrast to this survey suggesting an increase in parent pressure, students actually need more sympathy from their parents and support to do their best rather than to get a certain average, GPA, or letter grade. Several people also suggest that homework hours need to be increased by schools in order to keep students busy and active learning to foster academic success.

While over 50% of parents reported that they felt students were given the right amount of homework, ? of participants still believed that students did not get enough (Loveless). Adolescents who receive an average of 3 hours of homework per night may fall into this category, yet is undeniable the effects of continual brain activity at such a high rigor in the post-school hours. Adding hours of homework on to a 6-7 hour school day takes up over 50% of the time during one day that a student should be awake. The large amount of work given each night adds too much stress, and while that itself cannot be changed, the surrounding environment for students can be. While this may be impossible to change due to the increasing demands of colleges and universities, it is more likely that parents can change their attitude on pressuring their kids. Research suggests that “”a tendency for parents to demonstrate more responsive and nurturing behaviors in light of risk-taking behavior may serve to mediate (Hines and Paulson 609). If parents change their first response when seeing a bad test score from anger to encouragement, students may be more likely to pick themselves back up and work harder. “”When adolescents are encouraged and affirmed of their capability, they are more likely to experience less self-doubt, exercise greater effort, and persist when facing difficulties (Fan and Williams 54).

Parental pressure that negatively affects students’ self-confidence only harms their results in high school, but if parents begin to change their style of placing pressure on their students, an increase in grades and GPA may be seen. Parental pressure, while viewed by some as lacking, greatly damages a student’s ability to do well, and if adolescents are pushed in the proper way to succeed, by lowering stress levels rather than raising them, then this success is more likely.

High school in the American education system today does place a high amount of pressure on students, and the amount placed by education reaches the limit to which adolescents can handle. It can also be seen that parents add unnecessary amounts of stress on students, but this could be changed to actually lower student stress levels. While focusing the future towards a competitive college or university is important for student success, students’ mental health and actual education is important to a greater degree. High stress levels are placed on students in high school today, by both the school itself and the parents, to reach the goal of setting them up for their futures, but this stress is ultimately too much for an adolescent to handle healthily.

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Stressed Out How High School and Parental Pressure Push the Tolerance Level of Adolescent Stress. (2019, Jan 19). Retrieved from