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What would you like adults to know about what your life is like?

Students open up about stresses, expectations of high school

Editor’s note: While School News Network always prioritizes student voice in our articles, we know there is so much more to tell. We believe to truly tell the stories that need to be told, we should first and foremost elevate students’ ideas, opinions and experiences. We want to know: What is school really like for them? What do they enjoy? What needs to change? What are issues that need to be addressed? We spoke with 10 high schoolers from seven of the districts we cover — urban, suburban and rural — to get their thoughts on what their everyday experiences are like. This is the third installment of six parts of our conversation with them.

All districts — For a high school student today, life is not simple. Far from it. The students we spoke with opened up about the pressures they feel from day to day, their constant striving to do well and to live up to others’ expectations of them. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

SNN: What do you wish people understood better about being a high school student now? Somebody who’s not living it, what would you like them to understand about it?

Kaymin, junior

Kaymin, junior: “There’s a lot to do. There’s many different aspects, especially as you get into your older grades, like suddenly you have more classes, you have more homework, you have to get a driver’s license, now you need a job to pay for the car that you just got. You really have to learn how to manage your time.”

Emma, senior

Emma, senior: “You have to be understanding, because we do have so much going on. Just because we’re teens or we’re kids doesn’t take away from the struggles that we have or the amount of work we have to do. We’re still human beings. We struggle with those things.” 

McKenna, senior

McKenna, senior: “Some seniors aren’t 18 yet. We’re not adults. And so I think they forget that we still need that creativity. We still need some sort of engagement to want to do things, because I can tell you senioritis is so real. Like, I am going through it right now. I have two sports, three committees, two AP classes. I have so much. I think a lot of people forget that we’re still living in our parents’ house. We’re still driving cars that are mainly paid for by our parents. We’re still using things that are paid for by other people. I know high school is supposed to prepare us to be adults, but we’re not yet. So, like, let us be kids.”

Joel, junior

Joel, junior: “The pressure of getting a very good grade. Every time I go to a family gathering or my parents’ I come home to, like, ‘Oh, how did you do on your test? Did you get an A? You didn’t? Why?’ They tend to get mad at me and I’m like, ‘Well, I was trying to understand it and I thought I did, but I just didn’t get all the questions correct. … But they’re always putting that pressure on getting that 100, even if it’s just memorization. I can memorize it and easily get 100. But if I go to the exam I won’t know anything because I’ll just forget it. Because I’m not trying to fully grasp and understand it, just more (to) get through it.” 

Kerim, junior

Kerim, junior: “Especially as a person whose parents are immigrants, they came here in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s. And having my two older sisters graduating (from high school) at the top of their class, it kind of puts that pressure on me to kind of not be better than them, (but) in the sense that they gave me the opportunity that maybe they didn’t have. My parents were still new to America, they didn’t understand all the systems, things like FAFSA (college financial aid form). I have the opportunity of calling my two sisters and saying, ‘Hey, how do you do this? How do you do that?’ Especially my oldest sister back in 2014, when she graduated … you couldn’t just go on the internet and look up, Oh, how do you do this? Or look up a YouTube video. So for me, I have no reason not to excel, and I think that puts an added layer of pressure on me — which isn’t their fault, but it’s something that I’m trying to come to grips with.”

Liz, senior

Liz, senior: “We’re not all going to be perfect. And being compared to our siblings or just people in our class can be kind of draining. And we can’t be categorized by our grades. We’re more than just what score we get on a test.” 

Kelvin, sophomore

Kelvin, sophomore: “A lot of things about high school that I’ve found out so far is that you have to find your own groove.  Yes, you can go to other seniors and you can ask them, ‘How did you get an A on this test?’ You can ask them how they did this because it worked so well for them. But you have to find your own groove and why it worked so well for them, but not for you. You have to find your own way around your own high school career.”

Karl, senior

Karl, senior: “I wish people understood that most of us, we’re a bit lost in this transition between high school and college. That’s one of my big worries is, where do I go from here? I’m successful at high school, but as soon as you leave, everything starts over. And you have to find a career (and) kind of start over again.” 

Terrell, junior

Terrell, junior: “I feel like my whole life, everyone’s told me to, like my dad said, ‘Be better than me, son.’ My dad’s a pretty great man. It just puts this pressure on me. … And then on top of that, it kind of turns me into my own enemy because I start to think, ‘What do I want to do after high school? Is it going to make people proud, my family proud?’ I get this sense of, ‘Oh, am I doing this because I want to do it or am I doing it because people want me to do it?’ And that pressure has been stronger than ever, and it makes me feel lost. I feel like I don’t know where to go. I just don’t know the answers.” 

Next installment: How big of a role does social media play in your life, and what kinds of concerns or problems does it create for you?

Thank you to The New York Times for inspiring the format for this panel, which we used to elevate the voices of students.

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio

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