Ariane Herrera Cárdenas has always placed high hopes on herself, even in middle school, and the stakes have only increased when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is ready to graduate from Early College in about two weeks.
In the fall, the 18-year-old will become the first in her family to go to college and the burden of being successful is on her. A senior Ariane decided she needed to save money for college so she started working part-time at Home Depot.
“The decisions I have to make now are important for me to set an example for my siblings,” she said.
She is not alone in worrying about the future. Colorado teens have faced immense pressure to succeed in academic and extracurricular activities, such as sports, for more than a decade. Now, they are coming of age as the United States emerges from the worst pandemic in a century and teens and mental health experts are feeling that pressure even more than ever before.
Teens told The Denver Post that anything less than perfection in school or extracurriculars can feel like a failure that will affect them into adulthood.
Jollette Oseguera Martinez, a junior at KIPP Denver Collegiate High School, “I have friends who cry over this.” “They cry because of their grades and they don’t think they’re going to be successful.”
The pandemic has added to the stress teens feel for more than two years as they have suffered constant trauma, whether through losing a loved one to COVID-19 or financial, food, or housing insecurities, Jenna Glover, a psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
They’ve missed out on major milestones like prom, which typically make up the American high school experience.
“The kids really still aren’t doing well and the stress they’ve been experiencing over the past two years is having residual effects,” Glover said.
While teens welcome a return to in-person classes in the fall, the transition hasn’t always been easy.
They have less attention than before, but are facing higher academic workloads as teachers try to catch them. Adolescents developed different study habits as remote-learning transferred quizzes and tests to computers instead of using paper and pens, and they were given more time to complete assignments.
Now back in the classroom, some teachers are helping students adjust by allowing them to use notes on their quizzes and exams. This has helped some students become more productive and attentive in class by taking better notes, said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Arion Senior at Early College.
“They know we’ve lost our study skills,” she said.
Before the pandemic, teachers could give students a quiz a week and a test a month. Now, the workload has doubled, so he has two quizzes a week on top of all his other assignments, Arian said.
The increased workload can be exhausting and it’s easy for teens to feel like they’re falling behind if they miss a day of school or zone out during a lesson, he said.
“It’s more stressful, even though teachers are trying to make it less stressful,” said Sam Charney, a sophomore at the Denver School of the Arts.
Adolescents outside the classroom had to rebuild friendships and learn to socialize with classmates when they returned to school in person. Even something as simple as knowing how to dress in the latest fashions led to more pressure after months of distance learning, he said.
Rising cost of living is also affecting adolescents. Some, like Jollett and Ariane, are concerned about the cost of college. Others found jobs helping their parents pay rent and pay the bills.
“Many teachers didn’t understand that we came from a different habit of isolating at home,” Arian said.
“You have to be the best of the best”
More teen deaths occurred last year than any year since 2000, and mental health professionals have reported an increase in demand for counseling and inpatient treatment during the pandemic, with Children’s Hospital Colorado citing pediatric mental health concerns in 2021. A “state of emergency” has been declared. ,
There has been no significant increase in suicides among people aged 10 to 18 during the pandemic. At least 70 people died by suicide last year, down from 87 deaths in 2020 and 75 in 2019, according to provisional death-certificate data from the Colorado Department of Health.
Suicide is complex and many factors lead a person to consider harming themselves. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anxiety and depression are risk factors for suicide, but having a mental illness does not necessarily mean that a person will harm themselves.
Glover said the mental state of teens has deteriorated over the past decade for a variety of reasons, including frequent news about war, financial instability and other events that have made it harder to avoid social media platforms and smartphones.
He said the rise of social media has come with both positive and negative implications for the mental health of adolescents. It can connect teens to friends and other supports, but it has also been attributed to adolescents comparing themselves to others and changing behaviors, such as youth play, that already built resilience in children. Glover said.
Arian said that social media can make life easier like it is not difficult to be successful because people seem to be happy all the time.
There were benefits to being more online during the pandemic. Jollette finds a position that is friendly to people from the LGBTQ community, while at school she overhears her peers using derogatory slurs.
Glover said parents are also putting more pressure on teens to do well in school, participate in ultra-competitive sports, do summer internships and participate in political activism so that they stand out on their college applications. Can you
The focus is so much about results, so much about achieving the “us” that parents and teachers aren’t teaching lessons that can only come from working toward a goal. This in turn is setting up teens to think they either succeed or fail at something, Glover said.
“It’s an enormous amount of pressure on them,” he said, “not only is the culture in order to be successful, but you have to be the best of the best.”
“I needed to feel like someone was proud of me”
The pressure to be on top of the class is especially felt by children of immigrants, even if it’s not coming directly from their parents, said Jollett, a junior at Denver Collegiate High School.
“Your parents come here to make a better life for you,” he said, “you see them working every day, sometimes just to make sure you have the stuff you need.” Want or want. It inspired me to continue working and being the best (I) for them.”
As a junior, Jolet, who worries, is making decisions about her future, such as which advanced-placement classes to take, which scholarships to apply for, and where she wants to go to college.
The pressure to be successful in academics and extracurriculars is one of the major risk factors for suicide in adolescents because the expectations placed on them are often “unrealistic” and they are not taught how to cope in a healthy way, as in According to a 2019 report from the Office of the Colorado Attorney General.
Overall, American teens are experiencing higher rates of anxiety and depression than even before the pandemic. And in 2019, 61% of teens who participated in a Pew Research Center study said they felt too much pressure to get good grades in order to be successful as adults.
“School repeats how many grades are going to make you or break you,” Jollette said.
During the pandemic, Denver School of the Arts sophomore Sam made the jump from middle school to high school and when he returned in person were freshmen he had never met before.
The 15-year-old is also starting to think about college and her future, which presents her own unique kind of stress as Sam is a theater student, which can make them feel like they’re always auditioning. ”
“In theatre, there is pressure to do the best and we are always being watched by industry professionals and that can always affect our careers,” Sam said.
Sam can be more relaxed in his regular academic classes, but sometimes he has test anxiety, which can cause him to forget material or guess on his own.
There is too much emphasis on “when it’s not possible (when it’s not possible),” said Sam, “and when there should be more understanding that the student doesn’t always do his best based on what’s going on in his life.” can.
“We just need to stop stressing that grades are the only important thing,” he said.
The senior, Arian, said the pandemic made her take a closer look at why she had such high expectations for herself, where the pressure to be the ideal student came from, and was learning to “love herself more”.
“It took a lot of mental therapy that I needed to do,” she said, “that I realized there was some level of anxiety in me, a level of sadness that I had to heal and I needed to feel like someone. I was proud of it.”