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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Anxious teens: Are they working too hard in school?

Dropping SAT/ACT requirements at elite colleges could make ambitious teenagers even more anxious, writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. Instead of studying for the test, they'll feel obliged to spend all their time "cultivating as many résumé-stuffers as possible."

Credit: DALL-E

"Pressure-cooker schools" could explain the rise in adolescent distress in the U.S. and in other affluent countries, he writes.

Adults in wealthy countries tend to be happier than those in poorer countries, but teenagers are sadder, concludes a 2022 paper by Dirk Bethmann and Robert Rudolf, both professors at Korea University. They call it the “paradox of wealthy nations.”

"Richer and more complex economies require more rigorous and intense education, putting more pressure on kids to be high-achieving perfectionists," the researchers speculate. The irony is that teenagers in many developed countries have a longer school-and-study week than the adult work week. The hardest working teenagers in Korea and some European countries put in a 60-hour academic work week.

Forty years ago, the most anxious kids in America were those in low-income households. Beginning in the late 1990s, that flipped, according to the researcher Suniya Luthar. In a series of studies, she found that rich teens in high-achieving schools were the most anxious and depressed. One possibility she explored was that the most rigorous schools created an environment where kids worried too much about how they measured up to their peers in grades, activities, and college admissions.

Of course, most U.S. students aren't working that hard or trying to get into highly selective colleges: a 35-hour school-and-study week is the norm, according to Collegiate Parent. (Korea probably has the hardest working students in the world.)

Asian-American students study nearly two hours each week day, noted Brookings in 2017. That's much higher than anyone else.

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