Sevier said she now encounters students with anxiety on a “daily basis.” Thirty years ago, Sevier said she dealt with more “normal” teenage issues, such as conflicts with parents, friends, and significant others. Now, Sevier said she sees more severe cases of anxiety.
Jason Bradley, counselor at Roseville High School in Northern California, attributes a lot of the anxiety to the growing presence of technology in students’ lives.
“With the rise in the digital world, kids very often feel rushed and pressured,” Bradley said. “There’s a lot of info, a lot to learn, a lot to know.”
More than information overload, Amber Lutz, counselor at Kirkwood High School in St. Louis, said “high performance expectations” surrounding school and sports often result in stress and, in turn, anxiety. As top-tier universities increase in both price and selectivity each year, students tell Lutz they feel more pressure to perform. Sevier attributed colleges’ rising selectivity as a cause of teens’ anxiety today as well.
“The competition and pressure on kids have really increased,” Sevier said. “There seems to be a belief that there are certain courses that are the ‘right’ ones to take. Getting the ‘right’ grade in those classes leads to the potential of getting into the ‘right’ college or university. Many of those ‘right’ schools have stiff admission requirements. Students are challenged to take a demanding course of study, to get a high GPA and gain admission into those schools. So many times, if they are denied, students take it as a personal failure. School is more challenging, the stakes seem to be higher, and pressure is alive and well.”
Sevier said that the increased amount of testing teenagers face today, including the SAT, SAT Subject tests, PSAT, ACT, IB, and AP exams, additionally contribute to stress and anxiety. And over-commitment, between school, sports, a social life, and family obligations, becomes a balancing act that students can have trouble dealing with, Sevier said.
For Angelica Marinelli, a senior at Hackensack High School in New Jersey, the stress of school, specifically her AP classes, resulted in a mix of migraines and panic attacks that led to a diagnosis of general anxiety in January.
“I didn’t want to put myself under that stress, but I had to,” Marinelli, 17, said. “It’s like this battle. There was a lot of pressure to succeed and do the best that I could.”
Holloway said that her anxiety also developed as the strain of AP and honors courses, coupled with fear for the future, became overwhelming.
“A lot of people always say junior year is the hardest,” Holloway said. “With people telling me that, it got me in that mindset, and I was taking challenging classes. It was definitely a year when everybody did a lot of growing up and so a lot of things changed with your friendships, the classes and thinking about the future more than we’ve ever had to. That all just contributed and made it worse.”