American youth have a major problem…and we’re not talking about sex,
drugs, or rock and roll.
They are under such tremendous stress that it’s damaging their physical
health and psychological well-being. The pressure from parents and high
schools to get into college is producing the most anxious, stressed, sleep-
deprived generation ever. This pressure begins at an increasingly early
age and threatens individual children as well as society itself. If we don’t
change our ways, many of today’s youth may not be equipped to deal with
adult challenges because we will have done real harm to their creativity,
initiative, and potential to contribute and lead in the world. This problem
has national implications.
Adolescents have always faced stressful experiences: coping with peer
pressure, finding their own identity, breaking from parents to become more
independent, and worrying about their future as adults. Such pressures affect
every generation in different ways and to varying degrees. Young people have
always had innate strengths and resilience, however, and most survived and
even thrived despite the challenges of adolescence.
But the kind of stress on today’s youth is unique. We are worried that
the current trend of pressuring adolescents so intensely may undermine their
natural resilience. They are driven to be perfect at everything, participate in
scores of extracurricular activities to pump up their college applications, take
as many advance placement (AP) courses as possible and earn As in each—
all to reach the holy grail: acceptance at the best colleges…and oh, yes, they
also must please adults along the way.
Kids aren’t suddenly tossed into this pressure cooker on the first day
of high school. Many parents are obsessed with getting children off to the
swiftest academic start from birth. Toddlers are plopped in front of compu-
ters before they can talk. Parents try to enroll them in the “best” preschool
to guarantee admission to the best primary school, which will ensure the