Even before the pandemic, American teenagers were struggling with mental health. But things have gotten worse over the past year: 46 percent of parents say their teenagers’ mental health has declined during the pandemic. And the proportion of 12-to-17-year-olds visiting emergency rooms for mental health reasons rose 31 percent for most of 2020 compared to 2019.
It would be easy to assume that the social isolation of lockdown is the main driver of teenagers’ increased distress. But according to an essay today by Emily Esfahani Smith, psychologists who study adolescent mental health say that one of the biggest threats to teenagers’ well-being is the pressure to succeed at school. And this pressure has increased over the past year.
Esfahani Smith introduces us to Carson Roubison, a high school senior in Arizona who exemplifies this phenomenon. He’s struggled to keep up with his school work during the pandemic and is worried that months of hybrid instruction will leave him unprepared for college.
“I’m afraid I’m going to get to community college and be held to the same standards as past students, and fail,” he said. “That’s the biggest source of my anxiety.”
He’s not alone: Nearly half of the students surveyed reported that the pressure to do well in school had increased since 2019, and more than half said their school-related stress overall has risen, according to a study Esfahani Smith cites.
Esfahani Smith ends her essay with a charge to parents, imploring them to emphasize “different benchmarks for achievement” for their children: Rather than praising kids for getting good grades or being accepted to a top college, we should encourage them to have loving relationships and give back to society.