Overacheivers: An Epidemic?

Too many burdens piling up on students

High schoolers have a reputation for laziness. And in some respects, it’s true. But high schoolers also have a reputation for exhaustion, stress and overworking themselves. And when you look at everything that is required and expected of them, it’s easy to see why.

First, the homework. Many students take two-three Hawkeye or AP classes in their last years of high school, and some even take college classes online or at UNI. Except for the exceptionally gifted, each AP class generally requires five hours of studying each week per class. Three classes = 15 hours of homework a week, just for three classes.

Let’s do a breakdown here, shall we? There are 168 hours in one seven-day week, and 35 hours are spent in school. Many students work at least 15 hours a week. Add in those 15 hours for the three AP classes, plus five more for the other classes, and we’re looking at 70 hours.

We haven’t even considered extracurriculars yet: most high-achieving students are involved in several.

Let’s say this person is involved in a sport year and two clubs or groups: a three-hour sports practice each weekday plus five extra hours for games or tournaments means 20 more hours, and the two clubs probably split five hours a week. We’re up to 100 hours.

This leaves 68 hours. If a good night’s sleep is supposedly eight hours a day, 56 hours are gone right there, leaving only 12 hours for meals, commuting and routine preparations, oh, and maybe free time? For the entire week. I understand this is a very rough example, and math was never my forte, but with a few alterations, most students’ schedules are this full, or even more so.

With so much to do, sleep is obviously the last of a teenager’s priorities.  I’m not going to throw out some overused statistics about the importance and effect of sleep, because you most likely know already. And the thing about sleep deprivation is it never seems to go away; it just gets bigger and bigger.

Adults and even teenagers themselves joke about how addicted we are to coffee and other caffeine. No, we really need it. The stories about sleeping through alarms actually may have more justification than laziness: way too many high schoolers get fewer than five hours of sleep on a daily basis. This obviously affects their performance in school and activities, but the cycle just continues with no reprieve.

If all this is not enough, high schoolers live with another ever-present pressure: college. Not just the thought of it, but all the preparation that goes into college during high school. Students have to research schools, make visits, study for and take long standardized tests, write essays, find teacher recommendations and then fill out applications for colleges, scholarships and financial aid. We didn’t even factor in the countless hours required for college prep.

Why do teenagers take on so much, you ask? They don’t need to take multiple AP classes their junior year or take on extra shifts at work or participate in three activities at once, but many teenagers feel like it’s expected of them.

College admissions has become increasingly competitive over the years, and teenagers find themselves grasping at ways to stand out. Also, with so many sports, activities and classes offered, students want to do them all.

The pressure is obviously way too high. So why isn’t anything being done about it? Adults know about these burdens, and are, for the most part sympathetic to them, yet continue to reinforce the load at the same time. It’s not their fault of course; they are usually trapped in the same kinds of time pressures that students are.

The thing is that we are trapped in this system. If we want to lessen the pressures on students, and even adults, we need to change as a society. We shouldn’t lower our standards for education, but we need to change our expectations of how those standards are achieved. I don’t know what the solution is, but we need to start somewhere, whether it be changing the school year, the school day schedule, or reinventing college requirements and application processes. Education is important, they say, so why make young people dread school and and all the hassles that comes with it? And your high school years are the best years of your life, they say, so why force students to live them in a stressed-out, frenzied, caffeine-induced coma?

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