Monday, August 28, 2006

Stressed out kids -- or a lot of hype?

In a Washington Post article sure to cause many dinner-table debates, edu-journalist Jay Matthews discounts the popular notion that today's high school students are overstressed.

The object of his ire: The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids, a new book by Alexandra Robbins, who

...follows the lives of students from a Bethesda, Md., high school as they navigate the SAT and college application process. These students are obsessed with success, contending with illness, physical deterioration (senior Julie is losing hair over the pressure to get into Stanford), cheating (students sell a physics project to one another), obsessed parents ( Frank's mother manages his time to the point of abuse) and emotional breakdowns (Publishers Weekly).
But Matthews, creator of US News & World Report's annual ranking of the best high schools in America, says Robbins is perpetuating a modern myth.

While he acknowledges that a small percentage of students in the wealthiest school districts may indeed suffer from stress, Matthews points out that "the parents and students in such communities fail to see...that they are in the uppermost 5 percent in homework, just as they are in housing square footage, money spent on vacations and stock market investments. Only about 10 percent of American high school students have Ivy League ambitions. For the vast majority, academic stress is pretty rare."

Matthews goes on to site a study by the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute that found two-thirds of high school students spend an hour or less on homework each night.

"If they are not doing much homework in high school," Matthews asks,

what are they up to? The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research collects time diaries from American teenagers. These documents make clear our youth are not taking long walks in the woods or reading Proust. Instead, 15- to 17-year-olds on average between 2002 and 2003 devoted about 3 1/2 hours a day to television and other "passive leisure" or playing on the computer. (Their average time spent in non-school reading was exactly seven minutes a day. Studying took 42 minutes a day.)
See the debate brewing? Yikes....

In the end, Matthews says "Robbins is right to lambaste parents who insist that their children do nothing but AP and tell them they must get into Princeton. But keep in mind that our real national problem is not that we ask most teens to do too much, but too little."


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