Assignment: Education - Race to Nowhere

Impact of high-pressure society on today's kids

Published On: Apr 17 2012 05:39:22 PM CDT   Updated On: Apr 17 2012 08:15:26 PM CDT

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Glennie Milalovic is a hard-working and extremely bright student. Much like many of her peers at Central High School.

"We have 21 4.0s this year in our class," said Mihalovic, a Central High School senior. "So, it's pretty hard to compete with."

And despite her resume, she still feels the pressure to stand out.

"They tell you it's for your resume. It's for the applications," said Mihalovic. "I do feel pressure, because the people I'm friends with push themselves too."

And for many students the pressure can be too much.

For Glennie, it happened last year, when she was a junior. The stress of our competitive culture was leading her to burnout. So, Glennie dropped her AP chemistry class at semester to give herself a break. But not all students and parents recognize this breaking point. And it can lead to medical and mental health issues.

"We see more headaches, abdominal pain, high stress kids, depression, anxiety in a fast-paced world with the teens," said Dr. Kelley Bahr, a family medicine doctor at Gundersen Lutheran.

Dr. Bahr says her practice has changed dramatically in the past 5-10 years. She's seen kids as young as 5-years-old experiencing some of these stress related symptoms. And in her opinion, the end result of this type of behavior can be serious for kids.

"They start to kind of fall back and sometimes go into sort of a lonely stage," said Bahr. "And that's when we start to see the depression and they feel that they're a failure and they haven't lived up to everyone's expectations. So, its a major consequence to pushing them too hard and too fast."

So, Dr. Bahr says make sure your kids have a healthy balance of activities and understand some kids can handle more than others. But it's important to keep a close eye on their behavior.

"If they're struggling a little bit, if school is tough, if they're having more physical symptoms, if they just don't seem like they're themselves any more or having behavior issues of some kind, there may be something else going on," said Dr. Bahr. "And it may be a chance for us to say maybe we need to take a step back and really look at their schedule."

That's exactly what Glennie did, as she and her parents realized she was pushing herself too hard and starting to get burnt out.

"I was just so tired," said Mihalovic. "And the energy level wouldn't be the same.... the happiness..."

So, this year, Glennie cut back on her extra-curricular activities. A decision which didn't come easily.

"This year just deciding priorities... not to go out for track and field, like I have the two previous," said Mihalovic. "You never want to tell the coach or friends that you're not going out for track, but you just have to make decisions. It's for yourself."

And while Glennie and her parents have figured out how to balance the pressures on teens in today's competitive society, Glennie wants to make sure everyone understands how different growing up in America is today.

"I really would love if parents would understand how different it is," said Mihalovic. "How difficult it is to balance all those things."