Parents, teachers, administrators and students throughout the country are grappling with a very serious concern: stress. It is no secret that too much schoolwork, rigorous AP classes, high expectations and the pressure to get into top colleges can lead to unhealthy and sometimes deadly outcomes and many school districts are trying to stay ahead of the problem. In fact, the need for student support in this area has led to a state bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) requiring schools to have a suicide-prevention policy. Judging from statistics gathered within the last six months at South Pasadena High School, it appears that this proposed legislation comes not a minute too soon.
A recent poll of 292 randomly selected South Pasadena High School students, conducted by the SPHS Student Peer Mediators, revealed that 42.6 % of that group felt chronic sadness and hopelessness in the last 12 months, while 19.9% of those students said they had considered suicide during that same period. A 2014 Healthy Kids Survey of SPHS students indicated that 41% of SPHS students felt “very stressed”, while 31% felt “somewhat stressed.”
Fortunately, SPHS students are now being supported by the “Train Your Brain” program that is designed to help create a more mindful atmosphere on campus. In addition, and new this year, a group of students have formed a Peer Mediation Club that is working to start a dialogue between students and staff regarding issues impacting our students’ emotional health. On Monday, May 23, the South Pasadena High School Parent Teacher Student Association hosted the Student Peer Mediators’ “Student Stress Workshop” where parents had an opportunity to hear directly from students who spoke candidly about the stresses they are experiencing and how those stresses impact their wellbeing. Parents then had the opportunity to break into discussion groups to brainstorm ideas regarding how to help our students cope.
The evening was enlightening and contained a few surprises. For example, some parents did not expect to hear that, despite a lack of sleep and extremely tight schedules, most students on the panel would choose to keep all of their activities and classes. The almost unanimous advice from parents to students to simplify extra curricular activities and take less rigorous classes was almost unanimously dismissed by the student panel who said they found enjoyment in their chosen activities and wanted to remain academically competitive. The students, instead, expressed a desire to learn how to better cope with stress and shared that sometimes they just need a parent to sit and listen to them without offering advice — and for parents to offer a hug and a favorite snack instead. As Ms. Natasha Prime, Director of the Train Your Brain Program, explained, “As parents we are wired to try to fix things for our kids, but this is the time to help them figure it out.”
Hopefully, the next South Pasadena High School Healthy Kids Survey will reflect some progress in the areas of student stress and chronic sadness. In the meantime, we have our school counselors and staff, our Train Your Brain facilitators, our Student Mediators and better informed parents on hand to help our kids cope with the pressures of modern high school life.