The Not-So-Easy Life and Times of High School Students

While harried grownups may look back on high school as a carefree time, that’s not how it feels to the kids now in it. A survey commissioned by the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans quantifies the pressures high schoolers feel. Foremost among these is a feeling they’re under duress to get good grades. This is a “major problem” for 26 percent of respondents and a “minor problem” for 36 percent. (It’s “not a problem” for 30 percent.) Also bearing down on high schoolers are “too much pressure to look a certain way” (16 percent “major,” 30 percent “minor”) and “family problems, or not getting along with your parents” (14 percent “major,” 32 percent “minor”). Pressure to drink or use drugs (12 percent “major,” 24 percent “minor”) is a bit more common than “pressure to engage in sexual activity before you are ready” (10 percent “major,” 20 percent “minor”). Of course, some kids need no prompting to drink, do drugs and have sex, so they wouldn’t show up in these totals. If many students feel pressure about grades, perhaps it’s because they’re not very studious. Just 29 percent are “very involved” in school, versus 50 percent “somewhat involved,” 14 percent “not all that involved” and 7 percent “not involved at all.” As for homework, 58 percent spend less than an hour a day on it. Forty-nine percent subscribed to the statement, “I know I should do more homework, but I never seem to have the time.” What today’s students do have time for is paid employment, with 43 percent holding a job. Of those who work, 27 percent spend more than 20 hours a week at it; another 26 percent put in 16-20 hours. Notwithstanding all the demands on them, students are more likely to describe themselves as “under control” (48 percent) than “under pressure” (31 percent). And that’s partly because they’ve got sources of emotional support. Ninety percent said there’s “at least one family member who I can confide in and talk to about things,” and71 percent said they can air “personal problems” with a teacher or school administrator.