Youth: It’s Not as Blissful as it Once Was

Never has the generational divide been more clear than in these rapidly changing times. While youths continue to adapt to each new innovation, it seems that our elders are stuck in the past.

Through outdated lenses, elders cast glowering looks at the new generation because of the perceived notion that we just don’t have it as tough. What the elders can’t see is that being born in an era of groundbreaking technology and constant communication, doesn’t mean we have it easy.

Technology doesn’t bring the world to our fingertips, we reach out and grab it. Day after day, we tirelessly chase any opportunity that will give us even the slightest chance to make better lives for ourselves. We are so often perceived as a generation of lazy, self-absorbed, technology-obsessed, ignorant individuals, when the truth is that we are the most hard working teenagers of all.

Our primary burden is both a blessing and a curse: education. We have been told that education is the one tool that will take us anywhere we want to go in the world, so we strive to better ourselves through education every day.

But it’s hard. The education system changes more and more with each passing year, so the already gaping chasm between the standard of education of older generations and our own is one that is ever widening. There is simply no way for them to possibly understand the extent of what is required of today’s students and how much pressure is placed on us.

Today’s teens are expected to create a balance between things that are so disproportionately out of balance. We are somehow expected to balance schoolwork with taking care of household responsibilities, going to work, participating in extracurriculars, giving back to the community, and getting enough sleep, but there simply aren’t enough hours in a day.

It is impossible to do everything else that’s expected of us in addition to our schoolwork when, after we spend most of the day at school, we have to go home and spend more of our time on hours of homework. No balance can be found between all that is required of us, so some things have to be sacrificed.

Usually those sacrifices are food, sleep, and mental stability. It seems that there are no other options. Everything else is a requirement for us to not disappoint our parents, get through high school, and have even a decent chance of getting into a good college, so the choice is simple.

According to a 2013 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, teens in the U.S. experience unhealthy levels of stress, above that of adults. On a 10-point scale, teens reported an average level of 5.8 (as opposed to the healthy 3.9) and adults were almost an entire level lower at 5.1. Even during the summer, teen stress, reportedly a level 4.6, exceeds the healthy level.

This stress negatively impacts other aspects of our lives and we don’t even realize it. Despite reports of having skipped meals at least once (23 percent, of those, 39 percent say weekly or more) or feeling overwhelmed (31 percent), depressed (30 percent), and fatigued (36 percent) due to stress, 52 percent of teens report stress having slight or no impact on their mental health (versus adults’ 43 percent) and 54 percent say the same about their physical health (versus adults’ 39).

“It is alarming that the teen stress experience is so similar to that of adults. It is even more concerning that they seem to underestimate the potential impact that stress has on their physical and mental health,” says Norman B. Anderson, PhD, American Psychology Association CEO and Executive Vice President.

It is alarming indeed. We are downplaying the effects of stress on our overall health because we see elevated stress levels as just another part of our lives. We have to deal with stress and miss meals and lose sleep to get through high school, because graduating and going to college is a must.

But getting into college is becoming increasingly more difficult too. According to U.S. News reports, the average acceptance rate of the top 10 national universities is 17.3 percent. This already low rate has dropped in recent years: the average was 8.5 percent in 2016 and 8.2 percent in 2017.

So top universities are accepting less than 10 percent of their applicants, but even if we’re not reaching for the top, getting admitted is a challenge. State public universities’ admission rates are dropping as well, some accepting fewer than 30 percent of applicants.

Part of this is due to the growth in number of applicants as high school graduation rates rise and more students look to go to college because of increased demand for degrees in the workforce. However, it is also largely due to the universities which, according to college experts, fail to increase class sizes to accommodate applicants because the excess demand fuels prestige.

After the struggle to get into good colleges and universities, another problem arises before classes begin: tuition. The price index of college tuition rose almost 80 percent between August 2003 and August 2013, according to data from the Labor Department. The price of textbooks increased about the same amount during that period as well.

And though the rate at which tuition costs rise has slowed, they are still rising much faster than median household income. The median household income decreased for a majority of the years between the period studied, and has only risen slightly since then.

So, before our elders cast judging looks, they should take a look at the facts. The fact is that the world is changing into one that is continuously more difficult to succeed in.

As teenagers, we are feeling the pressures of succeeding in this world and working hard to overcome the obstacles in the way of success. At the consequence of our physical and mental health, we are fighting a constant battle to make something of ourselves. Considering this type of dedication and strength, it’s clear that we are far from lazy.

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