by Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas / © 2019, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
For high school students with dreams of reaching top colleges, the pressure to prove they can handle a punishing academic schedule can have devastating effects: Some are hospitalized for academic anxiety, and others don’t graduate at all after failing an AP class they weren’t required to take, a suburban high school guidance counselor says.
Students today are acutely aware of how hard it is to get into the best universities, so they’re preparing themselves earlier, many as early as junior high and some even in elementary school. But until they are in over their heads, it can be hard for them to understand how much is too much—causing academic anxiety or extreme stress over their studies—and what their breaking point will be, said Elizabeth Arbir, a guidance counselor at Crystal Lake Central High School.
“Without a doubt, academic anxiety is definitely increasing,” Arbir said in a recent interview. “These kids are setting themselves up for dealing with a lot of pressure. And though some of them will be able to handle it, … others are going to … come into my office and have a meltdown.”
Where’s the balance?
Arbir, who has been a counselor for more than two decades, said there is a fine line between pushing students to master the most academically challenging schedule possible and overscheduling them. Finding the balance can take trial and error, but she most often sees students start high school with wildly ambitious schedules that can lead to suffering emotionally and possibly physically.
“I like all students to reach their full potential, but when my kids start having bad day after bad day, I would say, ‘Look, it’s not worth your well-being here, so let’s lighten your load,’” she said.
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