Breaking Point

December 29, 2007
Since September of last year, I've been in high-stress mode. And when
I say high stress, I mean through the roof. With one AP and multiple
other honors classes last year as a high school sophomore, I had my
share of "I don't think I can do this anymore" moments. I managed to
make it through June—a would-be beach-filled-relaxing-fun summer
month— with 5 final exams, an AP exam, and an SAT II subject test all
within 3 weeks. The rest of the summer, while boasting some relief,
left me with a 100 page AP US packet to take notes on, two books to
read and two five- page essays to write. Guess what? Reading 1984 on
the beach is just about as boring as reading it in school.
When September inevitably rolled around, I started my junior year on
whatever high I had left over from summer. Soon enough, reality
checked back into my life. With three AP (college-level) courses, two
honors level classes, an SAT tutor, an SAT math tutor, numerous clubs
and organizations, a job, and (should be) most importantly, a social
life, I hardly had time to breathe (let alone get in five hours of
sleep). Left with a messy room that didn't have time to be cleaned, a
bed hardly slept in, and a heart that couldn't quite reach its resting
rate, the only sane thought left in my head was "why am I doing this
to myself?"
The only answer I could come up with: to get into college. Avalanche
amounts of pressure pour down on the students at my high school
everyday. Being ranked the number one public high school in
Pennsylvania leaves little room for slackers or dropouts. I tend to
find myself in competition with friends over the rigorousness of our
curriculums, grades, or number of extracurricular activities—all of
which are extremely personal and definitely do not translate into any
measure of intelligence to be compared. Getting into college (and a
good one at that) may lead to hardworking students, but it's also
leading to panic attacks in class, suicidal thoughts at home, and
grade point average expectations that any healthy, average teenager
can only fantasize about.
Is it just a coincidence that my high school also has one of the
highest drug rates in Pennsylvania? It's hard to tell. But hearing
people shout down the halls "Man this has been a hard week I need to
get wasted tonight," makes you question not only how much stress
kids—yes, we're still kids—are experiencing, but their complete lack
of an effective way to deal with it.
Is it just a coincidence that some of my formerly "goody goody"
friends drank for the first time after homecoming of their junior
year? Probably not. They wanted to blow off steam; but were left with
little more than a hangover and a truckload of homework the next day.
One Monday during my weekly meeting with my SAT tutor, she mentioned
her theory that "high school is the new college". Kids consume
themselves in their work to earn good grades, test scores, and
reputations so that their parents can go on to pay for a 200,000
dollar "party". How did this happen? Shouldn't we be building our
learning skills so that when we've become more fully mature we can
continue our education on a higher level? If adolescence is already
defined as confusing and difficult to deal with, why should the
pressure continue to be dumped on? Has anyone questioned why "we"
rebel, have attitude problems, or experience such high rates of
depression? Maybe its time for adults to try to recognize the mental
breaking point for teenagers, I'm pretty sure most of us are already
past it.

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