The following are the three winning essays in the annual Della Hardman writing contest for high school students. The contest has taken place since 2007. Past topics have included Community Service and Vision for a School of the Future. This year's topic was Adolescent Stress and Its Consequences. A record number of some 150 essays were submitted. Honorable mention this year went to Caroline Roddy, Olivia Pate and Jordan Tate.
TEEN STRESS IS GROWING EPIDEMIC
By CODY CASEAU
Recent studies show that the top five teen stresses are from the following causes: school work (68 per cent), parents (56 per cent), friends’ problems and issues (53 per cent), romantic relationships (48 per cent) and bad neighborhoods (48 per cent). In the past 10 years the amount of stress experienced by teens has increased due to many factors including an increase in social media in teens’ lives.
Adolescent stress has become a big problem lately because of the added pressure put on teens due to the increased difficulty of school and the standardized testing required to continue education beyond the high school level. The pressure to succeed and compete with peers is taking a toll on some students. Oftentimes study habits can contribute to the stress in a teen’s life making procrastination and others a major source of anxiety. Family stress can be caused by broken families or lack of funds. Money problems lead parents to pressure students to perform academically and in extracurricular sports and activities in order to receive scholarships. Social media provides immediate and constant contact giving no relief to the sensitive emotions of developing teens. Teens have to deal with media pressure to both be in a relationship and the media’s distorted fast paced view on how relationships should be. Some teens also have to deal with unsafe living conditions and unsupportive communities.
Some of the consequences of stress can turn students to alcohol and drug abuse, fighting, self-mutilation, abusive relationships or depression. Stress creates an unhealthy self-image which leads students to make poor choices that in some case can have lifelong repercussions. Students may feel like their lives are out of control and turn to activities that they think will make them feel better. These activities are temporary escapes from their problems, which remain when they return. This withdrawal from reality can cycle into a constant state of avoidance that can lead to abuse if the cycle is not contained or broken with treatment.
It is necessary that students learn healthy techniques and strategies for coping with and reducing stress instead of trying to escape from the struggles of life that they must be capable of handling. These healthy strategies can include exercise or doing things you are passionate about or enjoy. Exercise and sports can relieve physical tension in the body that is created by stress and provide an endorphin rush that allows a teen to take a step back from the problem and get a new perspective. Exercise can also provide self-satisfaction that boosts the mental and physical states of the body. An activity that you enjoy or are passionate about can help to relieve stress and can include talking with friends, listening to music, volunteering or other activities that can take your mind off the issue legally and without inflicting pain. You must find ways to cope control and limit your stress instead of allowing it to take over your life.
LEARNING TO LIVE YOUR OWN LIFE
By LUDMYLA MONTEIRO
School, friends, work, love, drugs, sex . . . There are so many paths to choose that teenagers sometimes get lost. It’s a fact that any person, at any age, will feel stress sometimes, but when we are teenagers the problems seem much worse than they really are. Growing up is hard because we are starting to make our own decisions, and decisions have consequences. Being responsible for those consequences is terrifying and the fear of failure can make us step back. Sometimes, we’d like to throw ourselves in the bed crying and asking why the world is cruel, but maturity requires us to put a smile on our lips and lift up our head.
Many students’ stress comes from the other people’s expectations. They hold our wings while asking us to fly. There is always someone to say that we need to make our own decisions, but our choices never seem good enough. When we were born, our parents made plans for our future. They imagined our profession and personality. People tell us to follow our heart, yet they declare foolishness not to be responsible in choosing the career we want to follow, the one that we’re passionate about and will bring us personal satisfaction, instead of choosing the one which offers a better remuneration. I am Brazilian, and my whole family still lives there. It is a huge, noisy, and loving family, but sometimes they interfere in personal affairs. In Brazil, I was attending the last year of a huge federal high school, which is unique and extremely well regarded by the labor market, since it is a technical school. My mother, sister, and stepfather work in the constructions field, and I was following their path by taking technical level civil engineering. I had already been accepted twice to civil engineering, and twice to architecture since my freshman year. With such a promising future, it’s not a surprise that every member of my family tried to change my mind when I announced my decision to move to the United States. But sometimes what other people classify as “promising” is not the future that will satisfy our mind and soul. Only we may know that. Only we may choose that. After all, who is going to live it?
Though I knew what I wanted for my life since I was 13, it was intimidating to turn this dream into a reality. The word “stress” is not strong enough to describe my feeling when I saw myself alone in a different country, with a different language that I could not understand completely, and missing my home more than ever. However, how could I go back after giving up on so many things to get in here? All the experiences I was sacrificing could not be worthless. Yet, being sure of my choice did not palliate the butterflies in my stomach, the headaches and the pressure on my chest, my accelerated heartbeat and breathing. Thinking about all the work I’d need to do at school to be recognized as a serious student and be accepted in a good college, and having work to get money to pay for some college, because as an immigrant I could not apply for financial aid only made my stress aggrandize.
My advice for high school students to manage stress is the same I try to tell myself daily: Take it easy! I know that when we decide a path we want it to happen immediately, but we cannot anticipate the future. Every single phase of your life is important in building who you are, so live it honestly. And when you’re feeling stressed, run away. Eat a lot of chocolate without thinking about gaining some pounds, spend the weekend watching dramatic movies or futile comedy shows, jump on the trampoline with little kids, ride a bike with your friends for eight hours, or just select an old romantic book to transport yourself to grandiose balls and extravagant raiments. To the parents and professors, support and belief in our goals are important to help us to control the stress. We need liberty to make our own decisions, even those that will bring a bad consequence. For example, we are forbidden to use electronic devices during classes, and we always need a pass to leave the classrooms, as we were undisciplined children that need to be watched all the time. Meanwhile, we are soon going to leave for college and we will require maturity to live alone and manage liberty. We should be able to learn by ourselves how to administer our time and to outline our priorities. At first we might be a little lost with all this liberty, but with time we will learn with the consequences. But it is better to experience it while still in high school, because we will have our parents near to help us with the stressful situations. Maturity is a personal experience that we need to build with our own efforts and behavior. Indeed, advice is extremely important to avoid serious consequences, mainly when dealing with drugs and sexual relations, but imposing what we should do is not the best option. Stress can lead to depression and even to suicide in extreme cases; therefore we need to fight against it together.
WHEN SCHOOL BECOMES COUNTERPRODUCTIVE
By WHITNEY SCHROEDER
Tern Guillernets once said, “Stress is the trash of modem life — we all generate it but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.” I believe that this quote perfectly describes the inevitable result of adolescents letting the stress and anxiety of everyday life compile. There are, however, many ways to prevent this from happening. I am one of the many people that has constantly had to cope with the stress and anxiety that everyday life brings.
Stress and anxiety in adolescents is a growing issue, but in order to fully understand it we must first look at the inciting issues. In my opinion, there are many causes of stress in adolescents. One of these causes is the amount of school work that must be done by a certain time/date. Some days I will get work in every class and it begins to pile up more and more as time goes on. I can see that most of the teachers of these classes are stressed, but only some of them can see that lain also. A few of them are unable to take into account how I am feeling and how overwhelming all the work can get. Another cause of stress, which is directly related to this is the lack of time in the day to complete everything. Between school and sports, it seems that the only possible way for me to complete all the work would be if the hours in a day increased. There are only 24 hours in a day, however, and unfortunately this will not change anytime soon.
An important element to understanding stress is how you feel when experiencing it. Personally, I get my most stressed before quizzes and tests. The anxiety I experience leading up to them is constant.
Occasionally I will have a momentary lapse, and for those couple of seconds I forget about everything that I have to study. These occasions are rare, however, and I often cannot focus on anything else. I find myself constantly checking the time to make sure that I have enough to cover all of the material. The never-ending anxiety makes me feel like I am on-edge every waking moment. This usually results in me getting headaches that the word “painful” just doesn’t suffice. Every person reacts differently to stress and experiences different emotions, but many of the consequences are often the same.
The consequences involved in adolescent stress are vast. There are some, however, that I see and experience more than any other. One of these is panic attacks or breakdowns. There have been multiple instances in school where I have seen my classmates become overwhelmed. It only takes one little incident to push somebody over the edge and I have seen this happen too many times. Another consequence of stress that I have witnessed and experienced is the lowering of grades. I find it ironic that I spend so much time focusing and stressing about getting good grades, but in reality that often results in lower grades. I think that this is due to the fact that I often become oblivious to the amount of stress that comes along with being successful in school.
This leads me to my final consequence, which is lack of sleep. I often find myself staying up until 12 in the morning studying or doing homework for the next day. This is essentially an unsatisfactory thing for me to do because it is a common fact that lack of sleep leads to more stress. In this way, stress seems as though it is inescapable. I believe that this is why there has been an increase in adolescent stress and anxiety; it is simply inevitable.
My personal experiences with stress have lead me to have certain opinions on the topic, but they have also taught me many significant lessons. This knowledge has assisted in shaping who I am as a person and how to see stress from many different perspectives. I believe that one of the most important concepts that I have realized is that my best weapon against stress is not how I perceive one specific thought, but which thoughts I choose to perceive.