What Are High School Students Stressed About?

The stresses and anxiety that students often have about high school can come from a variety of sources, including parents, advisers, teachers, friends, or even their own expectations. They can be made to feel that if they don’t perform well academically that their lives will be a total failure. Socially, many high-school students feel that they might not find friends or a peer group that they are happy with. Students can be made to feel that their whole future hangs in the balance of what happens during those four years. Often that stress and pressure can be made easier, or in some cases worse, by what a student does in preparation or in response to what they are told or choose to believe about what might happen to them as high school students.

“When You Get to High School…”

Understanding the pressures that high school students are under often comes through seeing exactly where and who that pressure comes from. It is very common to see that there are anxiety and anticipation built up over the many years of schooling that come before grade fourteen. Parents, teachers, and guidance counselors are forever using phrases similar to “when you get to high school” to tell students that no matter their current worries and responsibilities, high school will swamp them all.

Often this type of advice is well meant, but it is important for those who would offer it to understand that the results are not always good. Students are exposed to many such frightening warnings, and sometimes the results are unfortunate. Often it is clear that students are dropping by the wayside rather than stepping up to this mounting expectation, and they often respond to this pressure by behaving in ways that aren’t good for them. They may end up escaping the stress by engaging in social relationships that are damaging, experimenting with substance abuse, or evading it altogether by dropping out of school. Therefore well-meant warnings should focus on the positive and not attempt to scare students straight by telling them how stressful and important their performance in high school will be.

Truth to the Warnings

It is somewhat true that the time a student spends in high school and their performance there will make a difference in their lives. The grades and preparation they get in high school will impact their decision to go to a university, the financial aid they might receive, and their choice of a vocation. But it is important for students to keep all of this in perspective, and not use their worries to influence them in negative ways. Often they can look back on their own lives and see that being frightened in response to warnings is not necessary. They were probably told that “when they get to middle school” they will feel the pressure, and in fact, they did just fine. They may not even remember what they wore to their first day of middle school or whether they had a date to a particular dance and those worries, though great at the time, didn’t end up amounting to enough to ruin anything for them going forward.

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What happens during adolescence itself, whether or not those years are spent in preparation for AP tests and college applications, will have a certain impact on the path they take as adults. There are decisions that are made in the last years before a student leaves home that will affect them the rest of their lives, and so it is important that school and their academic lives are only one part of that. Their social lives, especially including budding romances and the results of rash decisions to involve themselves in sexual relationships might result in STD’s or unplanned pregnancies, therefore giving them serious problems to deal with before they are even adults. Their social scenes often are plagued with substance abuse as their peers use this type of escape as a way to build with mounting pressures, and one night of partying can end up even being fatal for themselves, peers or strangers.

Social Pressures

High school is full of means for a student to feel like social failures. If they don’t wear the right thing, if their complexion isn’t perfect or if they don’t have dates for an important dance, they are often made to feel like “losers.” Often unwise things are done in response to such pressures, such as going along with drinking, drugs, or other bad decisions of their peers. Many young girls end up teen parents to attempt to have a connection with a boyfriend. It is important that these pressures be put in perspective so that teens don’t find themselves on the wrong side of an important decision. High school should be seen as a place where students prepare themselves for the future, and social relationships are often less painful and result in fewer mistakes if they are put on the back burner.

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Resources for Stressed-out High Schoolers

Because high school and the pressures associated with that time of life CAN be real and often serious, it is important that the choices that students make in response to them are ones that will have positive outcomes. Students do have several resources that will help them navigate the often perilous consequences that the stresses of high-school life present them, and often if they know about them in advance it can make all the difference.

First., it often helps if students understand in advance that they must take the proper perspective on the warnings they are given. The parents and teachers that often make things seem so ominous are acting in their best interest, even though the result may be to scare them rather than to help them. Often they do so to help them avoid making bad choices that they themselves have made or that they have seen in the lives of others. Students often can feel empowered by simply taking stock of the decisions that they have made to avoid certain negative outcomes such as DUI’s, unemployment or unplanned pregnancy and need not let others’ bad planning scare them about a future that won’t resemble their own.

In addition, students can be heartened by the fact that there is always a second chance, no matter what the outcome to high school might be. It isn’t always the worst thing in the world if they don’t get accepted to their first choice of universities or get temporarily off of the path that they see for themselves. It might help for them to look at several examples of the successful people around them. It is probably the case that they know many people, including older siblings or relatives, who have done just fine in life despite not doing everything like a ‘textbook’ high-schooler might do. Many business people, entrepreneurs, or others who are satisfied with their lives don’t always get there by acing their SAT’s or getting 4.0 grade averages.

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On the opposite side of things, it is important that they look at the examples of those that they know that HAVEN’T done so well in life. These very people are the ones that likely have not responded to pressures and expectations very well themselves, often choosing to avoid them by drugs, sex, or dropping out of school entirely. The true failures in life are usually those that have made a series of bad choices that it are easy to avoid, and such failure doesn’t usually come through only coming short of their own good planning.

In response to taking inventory like this, students can always get back on the straight and narrow. They can consult counselors or a favorite teacher or relative for advice about how they see themselves proceeding to achieve whatever goal they might have. In reality, people often achieve precisely what goals they have for themselves. So if a student actually values academic success, there are many ways to go about achieving it. Lack of success is usually reserved for those who don’t see it for themselves or who avoid making the decisions they know are best to go about achieving it.


So by taking stock of what the actual consequences of high school are (and are NOT) and by getting a plan that will put them on the road to success and avoid pitfalls, students can take a lot off their minds. Usually, the type of life they see for themselves is achievable through hard work, avoiding obvious mistakes, and patience. Not getting in to Princeton, making valedictorian, or elected homecoming queen will often be followed by equally satisfying opportunities, and if they keep working at it, they will get the chance to enjoy them for themselves and benefit other high schoolers with their own good advice.