Credit: Caroline Lampert
Examining the effects of an overwhelmed youth
December 4, 2019
In this side-by-side opinion series, guest writer Ryan Urato and Editor-in-Chief Kevin Wang tackle the effects of over-scheduled and overwhelmed high school students.
It being nearly midnight on a Friday in January, the lights were switched off in every room of the house, every room except mine. I was awake and had been so for the previous eighteen hours, a time period in which I had gone to six classes, taken two tests, attended my varsity basketball game, helped my friend with homework after school and spent five hours preparing materials for a Christmas tree pickup fundraiser for the class government the next day. I was still working on that fundraiser when midnight arrived. I would continue to work until 1:30 a.m., at which time I would fall asleep, having forgotten to eat dinner. I would wake up the next day at 6:30 a.m., my one day off from basketball, and proceed to spend seven hours driving Christmas trees around Wayland before going into Boston for my weekly orchestra rehearsal, and then spending the rest of the evening doing homework before my basketball practice the following morning.
It wasn’t until that Friday night of my junior year that I admitted to myself that I was overwhelmed. I had been overwhelmed for the previous six years and would continue to be so for the foreseeable future. It wasn’t until that night that I realized that I loathed every single activity I did during my day and lamented every single activity filling up my schedule for the next day solely because every activity represented time in which I would be unable to rest.
I wish I could say that I am an outlier, that my experience of being over-scheduled and overwhelmed is unique, but I know that I’m not alone. While most high schoolers probably don’t have as many time commitments as I do, most of us have way too much on our plates, often without realizing that the lifestyles we’ve developed are unhealthy.
Regrettably, our student body has developed a culture in which we value the sheer quantity of extracurricular activities in which we take part, a culture that I imagine we share with most other high schools around the country, and a culture that is also indicative of modern American society’s push to do more and more. I frequently hear my classmates tell stories of how they only find time to sleep for four hours in a day or how they drink multiple cups of coffee consecutively to keep themselves awake. I witness our excitement when anything gets canceled, no matter how much we love the activity.
It’s hard to imagine how we justify such over-scheduling to ourselves, but I believe the answer lies in the thought process that if everyone else is doing a certain amount of things, so can I. I think it’s time to start being honest with ourselves and each other that we have too much on our plates. I think it’s time to part ways with our current culture because there simply isn’t time for everything.
Ryan’s right: we are overwhelmed. We are stuck in a cyclical rat race, a desireless drive to climb every rung on the ladder until our heads bump into the cold, hard concrete of this arbitrary ceiling that we constructed for ourselves. We push ourselves to our physical, functional limits. We stack time-devouring sports upon mind-breaking AP classes upon rigorous academic clubs until we’ve built an impassable mountain of commitments and responsibilities. We lose sleep, we lose health and we lose control.
Personally, I am overwhelmed. I realized this only this past year, but I’ve been overwhelmed for long before then, even as far back as my eighth grade “Accelerated Earth Sciences” class. That was the first class I struggled heavily in, where I earned my first 65 and where I learned to toil night after night in pursuit of that gold-gilded A. I fought tooth and nail to watch my grade tick higher and higher until it passed that 92.5 threshold, expecting to receive some infusion of mystical power or maybe some ancient scroll of unattainable knowledge.
Only later did I realize I’d been duped. The worst part is, I’d duped myself. Like Ryan, I had too much going on. I’d come back from seven hours of school to go to basketball practice for two hours and then practice the cello for another two, finishing off my 13-year-old day by studiously examining the magnificent joys of tectonic plates and air circulation patterns. I lost control of my life, diving into binges and late nights to compensate for an unmanageable lifestyle. I should’ve been enjoying my naive adolescence. I should’ve been valuing the arts and athletics as an experiential escape from pragmatic life, not another checkbox on my daily to-do list.
If I could go back, I would not have accepted and endured such rigors of my middle school life. Yet while this “over-scheduled culture and lifestyle” definitely negatively harmed my health, I did indeed receive certain benefits from this rigor I am only now just recognizing.
Like most freshmen, I felt daunted by the prospect of high school, but the toil of eighth grade science taught me critical skills that made the transition significantly easier. Most importantly, I learned how to not only listen in class but comprehend, record and apply academic concepts, a skill I would’ve had to learn in higher-stakes high school had I not done so earlier.
As we seniors move closer and closer toward graduation in June, we will need to once again turn the page to the next chapter of life by transitioning from high school to college. Here, I noticed another effect of such “preparatory rigor” that is unique not to me but to WHS as a whole.
Our school ranks in the top 10 in Massachusetts, the state itself a beacon of secondary education in America. Though university is absolutely nothing to sneeze at, the rigors of WHS have gifted us all with above-average work ethics, critically questioning minds, and a foundational academic understanding that we are most fortunate to have. Compared to the middle line, we will not need to struggle as hard or learn as much to reach the floor of our potential. In terms of ceilings, we ourselves control how high up we will climb.
This idea of “preparatory rigor” can be applied to most every stage in life. If we front-load our stress, our pain, we grow experientially and become better equipped to handle that same stress and pain when our responsibilities escalate and our societal roles expand. It is a forward-thinking concept that by no means excuses our overloaded American youth but rather provides a silver lining to this problematic culture; though it’s neither perfect nor preferable, it offers us some level of control. We can’t revolutionize the culture all at once, but we can take what we can get.