Youth Culture Window

Classroom Blues

If you’ve noticed lately that students have turned your prayer request times into gripe sessions about tests, homework, and rising GPA expectations, that makes them normal, because according to teens, school is the number one source of stress in their lives.

Does this mean we can pardon Ferris Bueller after all?

Recent AP/MTV research has revealed that a vast majority of teenagers are “stressed-out” over academic performance. 83% of 13-17 year olds fingered “school” as the single greatest stress in their lives because of “grades” and being “overwhelmed by homework.” (Their older brothers and sisters, 18-24 year olds, pointed at jobs/finances as their number one stressor.)

The report also found:


  • 85% of all teens were stressed “sometimes,” while 35% of that same group claimed to experience “high stress, daily.”
  • 45% of young girls reported being stressed frequently, while only 32% of guys claimed the same.
  • Students from urban areas were more frequently stressed than those in rural areas.
  • Students from the middle class reported more frequent stress than students from BOTH lower class and upper class households.

On a “slightly positive” note, parents point to observations that agree with the report’s findings.iVillage reported that 89% of parents answered “yes” to the question, “Do you think today’s kids are more stressed out than kids were when you were young?” (I say “slightly positive” because it’s usually a good thing when parents and teens interpret reality the same way.) UCLA’s study found much the same and reported overall teenage well-being at a low point. This might be why some schools are offering stress reducing Yoga 101 sessions as an alternative to the usual P.E. class.

You might be wondering what’s causing all the stress. So, before you start into your tirade about “kids today” and your rant about having to walk-to-school-uphill-both-ways-in-the-snow, take a moment and consider the current educational environment.

Academic competition has increased over the last decade and GPA’s above 4.0 are being turned down, leaving students working extra hard to get into “good colleges.” (This is a contributor to kids cheatinga lot more.) The fast-paced lifestyle of most families, allowing only a marginal amount of downtime, adds even more tension. And finally, when we factor in a dynamic that no other generation has experienced, random school shootings, it’s easier to see why school has so many teens on edge.

Worse yet, there are some serious “side effects” to the high stress levels.

“Depression and anxiety are on the increase in today’s teens,” says Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me.” These increases might explain why teenage suicide has spiked in the last 15 years, becoming the third-largest killer of teenagers. There’s one more piece of bad news; overly stressed teens are 2-4 times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem than their more lackadaisical peers.

Is there a point of ministry in these findings? Absolutely!

Teach over and again the importance of a Sabbath. The most natural thing for any human to do is to work more, and harder, when stressed, instead of resting. While working hard is certainly not “bad,” it can have negative effects if it comes at the expense of much needed rest and godly restoration. People who are overly stressed and tired make morally-questionable decisions on a more frequent basis. Point to God’s Day-Timer found in Genesis 1 and 2, and urge them to imitate Him in this important regard.

Remind students of ALL the ingredients necessary for success. Hard work and studying are noble endeavors, but are not enough on their own. God encourages us in many ways to “not lean on our own understanding,” and “seek Him and His Kingdom first.” It is then, He says, that the things we desire are granted to us. God greatly desires to be a part of our personal significance. He proved it through the cross, and will do so over and again if we allow Him to be.

These findings give us yet another opportunity to boldly proclaim Jesus as the One who invites the weary and heavy burdened to a life-changing rest in Him. If we seize this moment, we just might get an opportunity to prove all over again that Jesus’ yoke is indeed light.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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