Too Much Work, Too Little Time: Why the Modern Teenager Has the Most to Stress About

By Ilana Cohen

Cartoons by Isabella Rhodes

Even when we’re not in school, we’re often forced to think about it: we mull over our day, run through mental homework checklists, and, especially before a big test or when a project is due, we struggle to get a good night’s sleep because of anxiety about starting the same routine again tomorrow. Meanwhile, the pressure to maintain good grades in the hopes of attending a dream school weighs on us constantly. On top of our college prospects, extracurricular pursuits, and social lives, Beacon’s weekly quizzes and tests, essays, mounting homework, and the dreaded PBAs all contribute to a large workload that only adds to our daily to-do lists. All these sources of anxiety have a clear effect: the modern teenager often has the most to stress about and the least amount of time to accomplish his or her goals.

Stress Throughout the Ages

The average amount of teen stress of a 70s teen (on the left) was significantly less than that of a modern-day teenager (on the right).

It’s clear that the average teenager of the 70s and 80s, like many of our parents and teachers, faced less school-related stress as a student than we do now. Notably, the college application process for top schools has become much more difficult. The New York Times reports that from 1994 to 2012 alone, the percentage of American students admitted to Harvard, one of the most reputable schools in the country, decreased by 27%.

Today, teens also have much more access to technology than our parents and teachers had at our age. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported in 2010 that 8 to 18 year-olds spent an average of just over 7.5 hours on entertainment media each day. Granted, we use our iPhones, iPads and laptops for homework, but we also use our devices for Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, and other forms of virtual entertainment, which can lead to excessive procrastination.

While teen stress is not a new phenomenon, the amount of teens reporting high levels of anxiety has soared in the last few decades. According to the Nuffield Foundation Organization, “the proportion of 15/16 year olds reporting that they frequently feel anxious or depressed has doubled in the last 30 years.” And in a recent report, the American Psychological Institute reported growing concerns that the stress of teens today may be exceeding that of today’s adults.

The Effects of a Demanding Workload

Mounting schoolwork, extra curricular activities, and poor time management can all contribute to a high level of stress in many teenagers.

Daily work can be a constant stress on teens with limited time. A 2007 study done by the U.S. Department of Education found that the average high schooler does about 7 hours of homework outside of school a week, while the Huffington Post reported in 2012 that the average student spends 2 to 4 hours a night on homework. Taking into account the base homework load, studying for tests, and extra work on long-term assignments, we can certainly exceed this time estimate, which is an amount of work difficult to complete when coming home late.

With all this work and worry, no wonder we need iced coffee in the morning! The pressure of schoolwork can cause anxiety, irritability, mood shifts, and of course, difficulty sleeping, which is an issue that many teens with after school activities or greater workloads already struggle to cope with. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Institute showed that 35% of teenagers report that stress prevented them from sleeping.

Beacon sophomore Ava Boal reports doing extracurricular activities every day after school, which along with her school work, causes her some anxiety at night. She states, “I have to go through every single thing that I’ve done or could have done or have to do better [in my day] while I’m lying in bed [at night].”

Managing the Unmanageable

Yet while stress can often be hard to prevent, exercise, advanced planning, and relaxation techniques can alleviate anxiety. Junior year, reputed to be the most difficult and terrifying by far, is often when students feel the full stress of high school and need to utilize such techniques to the fullest. Beacon junior Sasha Fernandez explains how she finds it “hard not to feel overwhelmed” when on top of mounting assignments for all her subjects, she has “ACT or SAT studying, extracurricular activities, and a social life [to maintain].” She describes putting away her phone to prevent procrastination and planning her work step-by-step. Sasha advises, “Though junior year is extremely difficult, an easy way to avoid stress is to simply organize your time.”

To a certain extent, teen stress is natural and unavoidable. With the omnipresence  of social media and increased online communication, procrastination is an easy trap to fall into and online school work can often be prolonged simply by a lack of Internet access. Yet although teen stress is understandable, it’s still unhealthy. And perhaps, it’s not only the student’s job to work on reducing or coping with his or her own stress, but the school’s duty to ensure that students are able to come to school fully ready to be there. Advanced notices of long-term homework assignments, and more communication with students when they are feeling stressed or falling behind on work are practices that should be universal at Beacon.

If teens today are already facing the anxiety of the average adult, it’s horrifying to imagine how much stress we’ll all be facing as adults ourselves. College, careers, and life outside of high school are all demanding, and without focusing on reducing stress now, these more challenging times in life might be harder for us to face.