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Are parents and teachers putting too much pressure on teenagers?

It was as if their private worries had come to life on screen: Teenagers so pressured to get As, to fill their college resumes with sports and music and language, they start losing their grip. Long nights of homework leave them exhausted. Stress becomes stomach pain and anorexia and depression. Some turn to cheating or pills. Others just give up.

Riveted to this disturbing tableau were more than 300 parents and educators, including Elise Browne Hughes, 46, who wiped away tears one recent evening in Bethesda while watching the documentary "Race to Nowhere," which is becoming a growing grass-roots phenomenon in the achievement-minded Washington area and beyond. Read the full article.

By Abha Bhattarai  |  October 7, 2010; 11:46 AM ET  | Category:  National Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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It would make sense to put pressure on kids to succeed if they were getting positive results. When it boils down to beating the kids into mindlessness because the system is broken, then its cruel. Is the pressure producing higher opportunity, better health and a more caring community or is just teaching rank based on mediocre criteria. We need to challenge a system that prepares kids to incur college debt into one that prepares people for a healthy life. I guess some of that would mean existing jobs to begin with.

Posted by: TinMan2 | October 7, 2010 3:46 PM

Gee, the product of our high schools is so accomplished, so head and shoulders above the graduates in say, Japan, Korea, and China, why would parents put any pressure on students to achieve?

If the parents don't demand concentration and application during high school, who will? "Friends" on Facebook? Sexting buddies? Twitter followers?

We can have a "caring community" and still improve the quality of the high school graduate. We're graduating each year legions of young people who cannot even figure out a MacDonald's cash register with its symbology. MORE parents need to be applying so-called "pressure" to these distracted and poorly performing kids.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | October 7, 2010 3:55 PM

we have stress and affective factors creating difficulties because we expect them to flourish, but we dont set the culture for education, both inside and outside the school. in this sense, we havent done much aside from classroom things, and have expected our students to rise above what they know. but if all they know that is dynamic and changing around them is at school- and kids learn more than then, then we need to make education a living thing for kids more so than we do. always learning. turn the tv off. no junk.

its not that the bar is too high, its that we are expecting them to jump that high without a real living learning environment. for example...many kids go to school and come home to the tv on all night. its background music in many homes. turn it off! turn on some music- maybe research what they might like online. that part- the discovery is educating at home. thats what they dont get- and to rise above what they "can do" now- bringing education home to them is a great way and needs to renaissance. just sayin'

some of the things we can do are easy.

Posted by: ae-inc | October 7, 2010 3:58 PM

Pressure can drive achievement, but it takes maturity to deal with pressures. Too much at the wrong time stifles rather than stimulates. We need to recognize that not all kids mature at the same rate, nor do they all learn at the same rate.
In other countries, holding back a slow learner or late-bloomer a year in (junior) highschool is common. It gives them a breather, stops them from falling too far behind, and as their schoolwork improves, so does their self-confidence. Just one example of many ways in which we could be more flexible without, ultimately, being less demanding.

Posted by: archaeoman | October 7, 2010 4:05 PM

And just look who's leading them. Look who their roll models are. I hear some dork senator wants to lengthen class time. Look at the kids with back breaking back packs. J-sus C-rist let kids be kids and get off their backs. -Grandpa-

Posted by: eaglehawkaroundsince1937 | October 7, 2010 4:12 PM

Let's just call them the whine generation. We had the same pressure but if the males even thought of a gap year off the went to Vietnam. Hey kids try the pressure that if you fail you get a death sentence. Now that is pressure.

Posted by: alterego3 | October 7, 2010 4:26 PM

Yes the pressure is too much and the subject matter has been accelerated far too much. This is having the exact opposite effect than intended: it is reducing the amount of learning that is going on and reducing the motivation of kids to acutally care about school. We are getting grade inflation and more competition, but the amount of information that students are internalizing, and are able to actually retain and comprehend, has gone way down.

The math and physics my kids are learning in a top rated public high school is what I learned 20 years ago at a top rated university. But after 6 months, they do not remember anything, but they feel they have 'learned it already.' Also, there is a great lack of hands on training, like physics labs, which makes the material too abstract for young minds to take in. It is no surprise that our standards in math and science are declining, we are taking it way too fast and competitive, instead of looking for quality outcomes.

This is very similar to businesses failing for pursuing short-term profit motives. It leads to disaster over the long run and a ruination of the substance of our society.

Posted by: AgentG | October 7, 2010 4:35 PM

I think it is important for parents to be empathetic towards what their children want to accomplish. Folks should not fall into a false achievement trap. You have achieved nothing if your life is miserable. Parents and teachers need to be able to teach kids to want to learn, to self motivate, and to find what works for them.

Posted by: whitelabrat | October 7, 2010 4:42 PM

I guess American children are more fragile than the rest of the world's industrialized world children, becuase they are beating us hands down on achievement scores.

Posted by: moebius22 | October 7, 2010 5:17 PM

Students should be pressured to achieve but not to overachieve. That means B's, and C's in some subjects, are acceptable. One or two extracurricular interests, hopefully one a fitness pursuit and the other an artistic pursuit, is enough.

Posted by: beking | October 7, 2010 5:43 PM

I just had this conversation with the counselor at my Daughters FFX CO High School. Yes they are pushing MOST of the kids way to hard. This No Child Left Behind garbage and SOLs makes me wish I could Home School them. The want higher achievers but what they are getting from a good number of students discouraged. Why insist that a 10th Grader that Geometry and Chemistry if they are NOT ready for it. Is it helping them...NO!!! It has taken years before my Daughter to feel confident in her Math abilities and that was only due to a patient Teacher who has since retired. This year...we are back where we started..a subject she doesn't understand, failing grades despite after school help and parental help, and now a child who is anxious that she is FAILING almost all of her classes.

As far as competing with children in other countries...why would I want that...I do remember hearing how high the SUICIDE rate is amounst Japanese students.

What makes children successful, is TIME, MONEY, INVOLVED PARENTS and CARING TEACHERS...not regulators experimenting with our children and their education.

Posted by: Pumpkin31 | October 7, 2010 5:52 PM

Sorry for the fragmented sentences above.

Posted by: Pumpkin31 | October 7, 2010 5:54 PM

so let me get this straight:

Girls achieve higher than boys. - WaPo
Girls go to college more than boys - WaPo
It's Harrrrrrrd...... ------------WaPo

Well tough!

Now I'm supposed to sympathize on cue?

Awwwwww, poor grls - we should make it easier for you outsmart boys, right?

I don't care, really, what you achieve.

I've been de-familied.

Posted by: pgibson1 | October 7, 2010 6:01 PM

I saw a chart from some reputable source, the name escapes me now, that said that the math and reading scores in the U.S. were well below 20 OTHER industrialized countries. American children scored first in self-confidence. The only conclusion I can draw from that is that we have produced, if that is the word, a generation of confident, clueless, dolts who don't understand math and who can't read very well. I have no idea what this means but it can't be good. I also read that the jobs that college graduates will have 10 years from now do not yet exist. I think that math and reading skills are probably going to be involved, really involved.
Speaking as a former teacher, when American schools still see a computer for every child as a perk, we can know we are really in trouble.

There is always talk about the importance education plays in our children's lives but it rarely translates into action. I retired 18 years ago. I taught in a middle-class area of mostly 2 parent, caring families and I loved my job. The year I left, there was talk of children sharing their math books, taking turns each evening with homework, because of the district couldn't afford a book for each child.

I taught in Phoenix, Arizona. No classrooms were air-conditioned but the offices in each school were as was the administration building. Daytime temperatures into October can and do go as high as 110 humid degrees. I knew it was time to go. I had hung in for 25 years, the heat was beginning to affect me and I wasn't going to make a difference.

I lived in Scottsdale where my children went to school. Their school buses were air-conditioned. As they say in the South, them as has, gets.

The yammer about our failing public schools is just that, yammer.

I think America's century just ended.

Posted by: m_richert | October 7, 2010 6:04 PM

Pressure is not being able to find a job or start a company because you don't have communication, math, technical, business or any marketable skills...

Posted by: jblast2000 | October 7, 2010 6:16 PM

I think you have to look at what is working in public schools, and what is not working. For instance, the drop-out rate is fairly high in some states. Also, the hysteria over taxes seems to drive away any kind of "success model" in schools. If we are serious about educating our kids, then we have to pony up.

I have been amazed at how little teachers get paid in my state(Washington). I think we are ranked near the bottom of the list (42/50) for state funding. It's very strange because we are high-tech manufacturing, and strong importers/exporters. But the big companies cannot find well educated worker bees.

We could do a better job with community colleges, who have a charter to train worker bees. But our high schools seem to be falling behind "the rest of the world." With so many state budgets in deep short-falls, it is a wonder any public schools remain open for business.

Posted by: rmorris391 | October 7, 2010 7:05 PM

There are too many people with college degrees -- really only about 15% need them, even in a high tech economy. Meanwhile, kids are getting duped into running up ginormous debt just to get a credential that is mostly unrelated to their career goals. And our immigrant flooded employment market means that, even with a graduate degree, compensation will slip and job security can be measured in months instead of years. I say lets pay off Chinese debt by selling them American Universities -- they can disassemble them, then reassemble them in China.

Posted by: greg3 | October 7, 2010 7:53 PM

I educated my daughter at home for 12 years. She's consistently scored in the upper 80th percentile throughout our testing years. For the final year that we tested, she scored in the 91st percentile over all. This means she did better than 91 percent of all students who had taken the same test.

What's truly mind boggling is that she did this with having used almost NO "curriculum" during our time together. Her lowest scores were achieved in the only subject where I did occasionally succumb to the temptation to use a curriculum: Math.

This tells me that forcing children to learn in an over structured method damages their real learning. She did GREAT in math in the years when her only "lessons" were completed by using math concepts in real-world applications. We baked, we did the grocery shopping together, we visited the bank, balanced the family checkbook (yes - my daughter knows how to balance a checkbook - are you shocked?)

I honestly believe that our high-school aged kids would be better off if the parents canceled their cable TV subscriptions, tossed the cell phones, and sent all the kids to work on Consumer Supported Agriculture farms or other organic food production places like Polyface farms. Have them learn how to grow their own food, work in the sunshine and fresh air, and sell that food in a real life market. THEN they'd be prepared to study other subject matter when needed - assuming they needed to do so!

For summer vacations, they could go work on Living History Museums like the Museum of American Frontier Culture in Staunton, Virginia, or the Indian Village at Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg. What a marvelous experience that would be!

Were my daughter an isolated case, I would think too much of it, but given the tens of thousands of young people being "educated" the same way - and their exceptional results! - I'd say we've earned the right to say, "Just ditch the current system, it's can't do any worse!"

Given the average high test scores achieved by homeschooled kids, those who made these choices would certainly do as well as, if not better than, their public-schooled peers.

Posted by: ktsmom9 | October 7, 2010 8:13 PM

To be honest I would agree that some teachers may be pushing the students. Yet as a current teacher I think there are outside sources that are in control here. With the big eye on Education this fall, most of the attention is put on the student's but almost none of the attention is placed on teachers. Why is it that we have 50% of teachers leaving the profession after 5 years?. The answer is because the system is not working. The stress of the teacher is just as much of the problem as the stress of the student.

I think that what needs to be looked at is the effect of these national or state tests. Why are we looking if a student is at a certain level. I feel that we should focus on growth, on the MSA (Maryland State Assessment) it measures reading scores, but does the MSA note that the student went from a 3rd grade reading level to a 5th grade reading level? NO. This is why teachers are stressed. If something is not working its the teachers fault, and if something is working then its the guy at the top.

Look a simple way to look at education is to help students become successful, If we track individual student progress from 1st grade the idea is that we want to see growth in Reading, Math, Science, Writing, and the only way we can honestly say a student is learning is if we track them. Not comparing each student to other students but comparing that student to him or herself. This approach would help teachers such as myself see the areas were students need help and could even break it down to the precise section of the class.

Students are feeling the pressure and we teachers are too. Yet the longer I stay in this profession the more I am seeing that things that make sense will just not happen.

Posted by: lmccloskey0 | October 7, 2010 8:45 PM

This is the problem with SCHOOL "education."

Learning is fun! People are curious by nature.

What a shame. A very sad shame.

Posted by: cmecyclist | October 7, 2010 9:22 PM

As a student I reserve the right to stick up for myself and my learning. Yes, the pressure put on students can be beneficial in a way. Yes, the real world does produce a great deal of pressure. But as a kid, still learning, we don't need the pressure of a grown adult. With all of our school work, not to mention the extra-curriculars that are needed to get into college, we have enough on our plate. We need the SUPPORT and assistance of our teachers and families to help us achieve our goals and get the wanted results. It doesn't help studying AT ALL if you are constantly questioning if you are going to get into a good college, or college at all for that matter. I see students, my peers, crying to their teachers after school because they are so distraught. I've been one of those students myself. We get so worn down from the work load, lack of time, tests, quizzes, after-school, sleep deprivation, 5 am wake up calls. There's no way the pressure can't get to us at one point. Now people may think that we are "whiners" but if they took a walk in our shoes for a week and walked through our schools and took our classes, they would see we have a right to complain. To go back to the point of this poll: Pressure can be beneficial and can get results, but if its cracking students and making their childhood or young-adulthood a living hell I'd like to see what we can accomplish with a little less of it.

Posted by: summerheat27 | October 7, 2010 9:33 PM

Seriously? My daughter (HS Sr.) never has more than 15 minutes homework and has straight A's. Add to this the fact that everyone seems to want to go to college to become game designers....

Compare this with the educational systems in virtually any other industrialized country and you can see why we're falling so far behind.

Hard work. Why not give it a try????

Posted by: reed2 | October 7, 2010 9:38 PM

Actually we need more kids focused on their school work, not less.

It would reduce gang activity, and keep kids out of trouble by being so busy, they don't have time to find trouble.

I'm unimpressed with the goofs with connections that control Wall Street and drained our economy of all available equity with the help of Washington.

It never crossed their minds that churning hedge funds or re-wrapped subprime mortgages to make billions for themselves personally while destroying the lives of millions of others, was somehow wrong.

Maybe if they had actually worked hard while in school, earned their place along the way, they would have some kind of a moral compass which might have stopped them from stealing so much from the American people.

Posted by: justhefacs | October 7, 2010 9:41 PM

Reed 2:

If your daughter never does more than 15 minutes of homework and gets straight A's, there's something wrong with the school she is attending.

Posted by: justhefacs | October 7, 2010 9:48 PM

Is there any other country where kids do athletics and activities to get into a good college?

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | October 7, 2010 10:13 PM

Most young people today do so little thinking in school, that anything the teacher requires causes great stress. But if the kids have problems coping, just look at their whining Tea Party parents, who teach their kids that no one should be taxes or make any sacrifices for their country. In fact, many older Americans say they should pay no taxes because their kids are no longer in school, which ignores that fact that those older Americans are going to be served by young people...who got no education because old folks didn't want to pay taxes.

Posted by: jjedif | October 7, 2010 10:28 PM


Part of the problem is how we measure success. Using a percentile system we can pressure our children to death and it still isn't going to change the fact that only 1% of them are going to be in the top percentile.

We should instead focus on teaching our children how to successfully function in the modern world. This includes learning how to deal with stress and competition of course. But they need to also learn how to learn on their own. It's a critical skill to have all throughout life, and one which tends to separate the mundane employee or dull conversationalist from the go-getter.

Another problem is the percentage of time they spend rotely learning concepts and theory compared to the amount of time they spend applying those concepts. Concepts applied are concepts retained. Our "mile wide and an inch deep" curriculum should be pared down a bit and more time should be spent reinforcing concepts rather than racing to the next equation on the list.

Posted by: robert17 | October 7, 2010 10:50 PM

A key problem is that our society may be losing its identity. Because of increased competition, our society has begun defining people based on their affiliations and abilities rather than as individuals.

Good grades, good schools, good jobs. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. However these things are only characteristics of a person, not the entire person. When we try to define ourselves and those around us by these characteristics, we effectively undermine their existence as people.

It seems as though in a recession hit America, we have so easily become accustomed to defining ourselves by a resume. We are what we say we are on paper. But I firmly believe that we know that this is not true. There is more to every person than what can be applied to one sheet of paper.

Pushing students is not a problem. We should be pushing our students in American schools to be the best they can be because they are in the most affluent country in the world with the best schools, where they can really become agents of positive change and development in the world.

However pushing students for the sake of achievement alone is not enough. Our students will be unsatisfied, overburdened and eventually burn out. But if we foster real education in our schools through personal development and supportive learning, I have no doubt that we will see a revival of innovators in our young students today.

Posted by: onlyonemj | October 7, 2010 11:12 PM

Friends:
Don't believe everything you read or hear.
The Chinese, to cite just one example, are aware of the fact that their education system is seriously compromised, and in need of "Westernizing": Standardized testing and study “burnout” combine to produce an outcome of mediocrity and regurgitated, test-normed Facts. As a NON-professional -- Thank God! -- teacher of ESL classes for the last few years, I've heard most of the complaints, and from the most articulate students: they realize they're not really learning anything, only memorizing and participating in rote drill. But, Oh Boy! -- talk about good worker bees!
If only the self-motivation and desire to go beyond the mandatory curriculum were there. Spontaneity...Creativity...the Joy of Learning? Forget it.
I'm speaking too long on a subject I can't possibly categorize or understand as well as my own experience, however. In fact, a failed educational system reflects a failed political economy more than anything else; I agree with much of what I've read here: only a relatively small percentage of students neeed, can actually benefit from, the acquiring of advanced education; and a society that is incapable of providing useful, fulfilling employment for those students who decide at some point to stop being "professional learners" and to simply get on with their life (their true learning), is an economic order long past its utility, unsuited for anything beyond constant quibbling over non-issues, fear mongering, and interminable "success" anxiety.
Your hard-, or hardly earned Degree has become virtually worthless, through inflation of grading standards, loss of substantive content, reliance on "specialization" and similar job-driven priorities.
Come on: If I'd been forced to take junior high English classes in order primarily to learn how to write a "winning" CV, rather than to enjoy a good story, perhaps compose a few lines of insipiod poetic sentiment, I'd have better packed my ditty-bag and hit out for parts unknown, perhaps sharing beans with a few hobos -- or getting a summer job.
Where, by the way, are the jobs?
Some Chinese students know this; exhaustively prepared for selling widgets, appearing business-like, yet the majority have generally never been asked to write a short story -- in their native language -- much less apply a few dabs of paint to a blank, therein terrifying, canvas.
The trick consists in occasionally getting them to understand the big difference between education and indoctrination.
Between fear of failure, and learning to learn.
In Conscience,
SWB

Posted by: mercury57 | October 7, 2010 11:20 PM

There is still something you might call "the person you are."

And many parents are applying layers of veneers over the person, denying them their own time and leverage to become themselves.

But that's ok if the parents have looked into their own souls and found no genetic gifts to pass onto their children; or if the career goal for the child is to become an actor, model, banker or tea party candidate.

Posted by: paultaylor1 | October 7, 2010 11:30 PM

The truth is that it IS really stressful being a teenager these days. The boys don't know what kind of future they will have while they sit and wait to see if they will be sent off to die in Vietnam. And the girls are totally stifled because they have no hope for a future that doesn't involve simple drudgery serving husband and family in the home. Minority children have it especially hard, what with all the racial tensions associated with the civil rights movement. And the children of the poor start working full time in dangerous factories by the time they are about six years old.

It is really hard to take things like this seriously. In what context does a question like this even make sense? Historically and Geographically speaking, American children have very very very very easy lives. What have they really got to be stressed about?

Ever think that maybe they are so stressed out because we have tried so hard to raise our children in a consequence-free environment that when they do come into contact with real expectations they have no idea what to do with them?

And, good lord, it is time to put the brakes on the school-bashing chic. It isn't the public school system's responsibility to raise our children.

Posted by: kuato | October 8, 2010 12:26 AM

Stress is a part of life. The best advice that teachers and mentors ever gave me was how to deal with stress and properly direct the energy. To this day, stress management is my greatest ability because no problem is too overwhelming. Some suck more than others, but as long as I am moving forward on a workable solution and I'm not just complaining about it then there is no need to stress out. That is the essence of maturity. We all have more work than we could ever finish, but if all you do is flip-out and cry about it then you are wasting energy.

Kids need to be taught how to manage and take care of their physical, mental, academic, and social well being. And it needs to be an integral part of our educational system.

No kid wants to memorize facts just because...they have more "important" things going on with their BFFs. They are learning how to deal with those problems on their own so that is where they focus all there energy.

Our schools need a shift in what "educated" really means.

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Posted by: itkonlyyou306 | October 8, 2010 9:35 AM

If the home had structure and the schools had structure that were reasonable for the child to feel safe within those structures then the child should be able to perform within those structures. But the conflict between the home and the schools is causing the conflict and pressure for the child.

Posted by: jaclk | October 16, 2010 10:37 AM

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