High Achieving Schools, High Stress Students

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BOSTON, Mass. (Ivanhoe Newswire) It's a paradox for parents. You want your child to go to a high school that offers lots of opportunities, like advanced placement or college-level classes, and a wide variety of extra-curricular activities. But researchers are finding that these high-achieving schools are producing students that run the risk of burning out.

For some students in school districts that serve affluent, white-collar families the educational opportunities are endless.

High school senior Emma Johnston told Ivanhoe she takes "AP Calculus, AP Physics II, and AP Gov."

Add a part-time job, sports, and community service to a heavy course load and bedtime never happens before midnight.

"But if I have a test the next day or I'm not super confident on the material it could be two or three in the morning," detailed high school senior Grace Koppelman.

Nina Kumar is CEO of Authentic Connections, a group that studies the disconnect at high-achieving schools districts where students have high standardized test scores, and admissions to some of the nation's top universities.

"Students at these schools often suffer from rates of depression, anxiety, substance use, rule breaking, things like cheating stealing, at rates higher than other students nationally," said Kumar.

Kumar said at some schools, the rates of anxiety are six times higher than the national average. What should parents watch for?

"When you have debilitating anxiety, when you have a kid who doesn't want to go to school, that's too much," Kumar told Ivanhoe.

Parents want their children to compete at high levels to succeed. So, what can they do?

Kumar said parents should keep a balanced view of their kid's accomplishments. Don't focus on external goals, like getting into a prestigious college, or a future high-paying career. Talk about the benefits of a class or activity. Is it fun? Does it bring the child joy? Does it connect him with others? For students, additional support to help them cope while they navigate the high school years.

Kumar and other social scientists say strong parent-child relationships and a low level of parental criticism are also predictors of how well teens will adjust. The researchers also say high school is a time when parents should continue to monitor their kids and be clear that there will be repercussions for drug and alcohol use.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Ken Ashe, Editor; Roque Correa and Kirk Manson, Videographer.
Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.