“I think there is more competition these days to go to the best college, to make the best SAT scores, and it’s like everybody is trying to be the best,” 14-year-old Connie says. Even at the tender ages of 12, 13 and 14, adolescents begin to worry about the future – “Where will I go to college?” “What kind of career will I choose?” “How much money will I make?” It’s a new kind of teenage angst.
Thirteen-year-old Trey feels the pressure every day. “I set my standards very high and when I don’t achieve my goal, I feel very bad,” he says. Michael, 14, pushes himself, too. “You want to be better than everybody else. I know I do. I want to be at the top of the pile and if I’m not there, I feel like I gotta do a lot of things to get there.”
The National Association of School Psychologists estimates that career-related anxieties among teens have increased about 20% in the past decade. Experts say striving for success is great, but they also warn that if it becomes an obsession, it can be unhealthy for kids. “They become anxious [and] jittery. They become worriers,” says Dr. John Lochridge, a psychiatrist. “They turn to drugs or alcohol as external ways to calm themselves down.“
Experts say that parents need to help kids put success into perspective and teach them how to pace themselves. “[It’s important to] emphasize the moment as opposed to where we are going to be in five years, where we’re going to be in 10 years or what are we achieving,” says Dr. Alexandra Phipps, a psychologist. But more than anything, parents need to help their children recognize the importance of “just being a kid.” Says Connie: “Sometimes, I feel like I have so much stress on me. And I feel like at this age, I should be enjoying myself, but sometimes I don’t feel like I’m enjoying life as I should be.”
Discussion and Self-Reflection Questions
- Do you worry about your future? What causes you stress and anxiety? What are the benefits of competition? What are its hazards?
- What action might you take today to help manage your concerns about the future? Who can you turn to for assistance and support?
- Some recommend being organized, planning activities and goals, and even exercise, meditation, and proper nutrition as strategies to manage stress. What might work for you?
- One student in the video commented on the importance of “just being a kid.” What does this mean to you? Do you believe that is valid? Do you have the opportunity to “just be a kid?”
About the Program
There is growing evidence that kids today are more worried about their future than previous generations. Whether they’re involved in sports, clubs or academics, kids today are quickly learning that competition is a part of life. Watch this program to hear from kids about the competition and anxiety they face and feel, and what adults can do to help.