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Before I started high school all the adults in my life kept telling me that high school would be the best five years of my life; with that thought lasered into my mind, I started high school.
As I went through high school I felt like I was doing it ‘wrong’ because I was not enjoying what was supposed to be the best five years of my life. Thoughts along the lines of ‘why am I not enjoying being a teenager?’ or ‘maybe next year will be different’ were quite frequent.
The reality is that for many students, high school is not the best five years of their lives. There are numerous reasons that contribute to this.
Whilst we are in school to learn, there is a pressure to always come out on top; thus getting a 99% does not matter because someone else will have a 100%, and getting a 100% does not seem to matter either because someone else will also have a 100%. Whether that pressure is internal or external, it is exhausting. Generation Z has grown up with the idea that in order to be successful they must be the best, anything short of that is simply not acceptable. According to Barna, ‘today’s teens and young adults surely feel the weight of expectations from parents, teachers and older adults—as many elder adults have felt before during this life stage—but an even larger proportion of Gen Z feels this weight from within’. This idea of being perfect is extremely dangerous because it supports the notion that in order to lead a happy and full life one must come out on top. It puts a false definition on both success and happiness. The need to come up on top easily leads to burnout. Growing up I tried to live by the phrase, ‘strive for excellence. I had to give everything 100% of my energy and time, leaving me with very little time for myself. I had to learn the hard way that doing my best did not mean that I had to put my own well-being on hold.
School is not the only area of our lives to which we are expected to devote 100% of our effort and energy. Many students are involved in numerous clubs, sports teams, and extracurriculars. Some students will join teams and clubs simply because it looks good on applications to post-secondary schools. We spend our years in high school trying to make an application to post-secondary school look good. It is also important to note that students have responsibilities and lives outside of school, some have to help take care of their parents or younger siblings. An article by Samantha Zakrzewski, written for the Clifton Hub, states that ‘many teenagers are up past midnight finishing their homework, since they were busy all day with clubs, sports, and school. As a result, a lot of teenagers are sleep deprived.’
More light is being shed on mental health. However, while many schools recognize that their students are struggling with their mental health, very few actually take the steps to do something about it. No student should be stressing themselves out about an assignment so much that they get physically sick. Going to school should not be worsening students' mental health. When the idea of success is so heavily placed on grades, school becomes a worry for students. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, ‘it is estimated that 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder – the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide. Today, approximately 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth, age 12 to 19, have experienced a major depressive episode.’
From finding ourselves, making friends, to sudden changes in our lives, sometimes growing up can suck. Moreover, teenagers are faced with issues that the adults in our lives did not have growing up. For one, being constantly exposed to social media and trying to keep up with the latest trends does, in some ways, negatively impact us. More importantly, we are growing up in a world where issues like racism, sexism, capitalism, homophobia and climate change are rightfully rising to the surface. Due to this, we are realizing how much of our world is based on the oppression of others.
However, high school does not have to be this way for everyone. Since March of 2020, most schools have shifted online and a new way of learning was introduced. Some students really liked the idea of online learning, while others struggled with it. However, this is proof that it is possible to adapt and change the way students learn. Everyone has their own style of learning: sitting behind desks and memorizing heaps of information does not effectively work for everyone. Schools should be adapting and changing the way they educate and expect students to learn. What works for one student may not work for the other. For example, some students are great at oral presentations whereas others feel anxious at the thought of getting up and speaking in front of their peers.
As I finished my grade 12 year, I could not help but feel a sense of loss; a sense of loss for what high school was supposed to be like, it was most definitely not the best five years of my life. I felt as if I had wasted my high school years stressing, worrying, and beating myself up for things that no longer hold any relevance in my life. After a lot of thinking, I started to realize, it is okay if you did not have a blast in high school, it is okay if all you did was survive it.
Written by writer Mehr Lokhandwala