All Work, No Play
The pressure is on at area middle and high school campuses. Experts say increased stress from academics and extracurricular activities is damaging the physical health and psychological well-being of today’s students.
While critics suggest our kids are foolishly “over-enriched” with year-round sports and piano lessons, many students say simply keeping up with academic demands is stressful enough. Luckily, studies show incorporating serious “playtime” into hectic schedules can help adolescents with full plates reduce stress and stay balanced.
WHAT CAUSES STUDENT STRESS?
Recently, high-stakes federal school assessments have increased pressure on students for academic achievement. In response, Pablo Gutierrez, Assistant Principal at George A. Buljan Middle School in Roseville, says schools are offering more student assistance programs. “We try and make sure each student’s schedule meets his or her needs,” says Gutierrez, referencing five different levels of 8th grade math. “They get the skills they need for high school without getting completely overwhelmed with the curriculum.” Gutierrez says extra class periods, study halls, and before and after school tutoring, help students stay on top of coursework.
Off campus, Gutierrez credits parents with monitoring extracurricular activities. “At this stage of the game, we find parents do a really good job of managing to what extreme their child can handle being involved outside the school.” Like other middle and secondary schools, he says Buljan’s system of behavior merits and academic standards helps reel in students who become overextended.
THE COLLEGE COMPETITION
It’s no surprise academic stress typically peaks in high school. Today’s college-bound students face realization that a 4.0 GPA isn’t enough. Rigorous honors classes and extensive community service are now prerequisites for exceptional college applications.
El Dorado Hills junior Haley Adams knows collegiate pressure all too well. Six of Adams’ seven classes this year are demanding Advanced Placement (AP), college-level courses requiring on average, five hours of homework each night. The dynamic 16-year-old also is involved in her school’s leadership class, serves on the governing board of Youth in Government, and has held summer internships for both Assemblywoman Alyson Huber and Senator Barbara Boxer. For Adams, who hopes to study political science at a top East Coast university, her self-imposed schedule is worth it. “College is a huge issue, and I want to do all I can to be prepared,” she says.
HOW TO DEAL
To cope with a hectic pace, Adams tries to exercise daily, either doing Taekwondo (she’s a second degree black belt) or running. “A quick 20-minute run outdoors with my I-pod is perfect.”
She also knows how to walk away. “After school on Friday, I turn off and don’t touch anything school related until Sunday,” she says, noting her free time is spent hanging out with friends at the local yogurt shop and going to movies or football games. “That’s what helps me feel like a normal kid again with a normal social life.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF PLAY
That “hanging out” time is what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) calls essential to development for kids of all ages. A recent AAP report shows unscheduled playtime, even for teens, allows creative growth, self-reflection, and decompression, and helps equip them academically, socially, and emotionally for adulthood.
While today’s students might not avoid pressure altogether, taking time out to play while they work better prepares them for college and their future.