The pressure to succeed is giving kids far too much anxiety.

Vox recently reported that while it seems like kids are stressed and depressed, smartphones and social media are not the cause. It’s something much more nuanced. It involves education primarily, but also economic concerns of their parents and given the environment post-Great Recession, it’s not a surprise that parents are pressuring their kids to do the right things to be successful. Thanks to the economy the stakes are even higher. Kids and teens can’t get in trouble at school or do anything that might jeopardize their future.

Why Are Kids So Stressed?

We do have some scientific data to back up the idea that social media is a stressor on people. People tend to post their best selves on social media leaving others wondering why their life is such a mess. However, social media is not the only culprit. Vox points the finger solidly at high-stakes testing and the restructuring of education. Kids and teens are pressured to choose the right “career cluster” of classes that will directly lead to a job that exists in the real world. Some of those clusters will lead to college and some others won’t. Thanks to “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” state testing standards have been raised and the stakes for students have never been higher. However, the state tests are not just a measure of the students, they are also a measure of teachers and administration. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for being. They can sense the tension about school funding and the political pressure to make sure that schools are meeting testing standards. That is a topic that deserves an essay of it’s own (keep an eye out for that very thing). It’s leading to ever-stressed out kids trying to find their way in a complicated world.

We Have to Let Kids be Kids

Kids are not perfect robots into which we can insert knowledge and expect them to then churn perfect results. Kids and teens are people first and scholars second. If they don’t have their basic physical, emotional, and psychological needs met then they can’t be effect students. This means that we need to work harder to make sure that students have the basic needs of life for them to succeed. But it also means not arresting them for small behavioral infractions.

As a society, we also need to be more forgiving of students. Police monitors in schools have led to an uptick of arrests of kids. This is especially true for students of color who also suffer more detention, suspension, and expulsion. An increase in disciplinary actions hurts graduation rates for affected students.

Lastly, we have to let kids be kids by letting them outside to play and be themselves. Rather than chaining them to desks and focusing only on academics, we need to revive things like shop, metalworking, and the arts. We get more well-rounded students and happier students who have moments away from the high-stakes world of testing in their academic classes. Education is not just about making sure everyone can read and write and do differential equations. Education is also about making them good people too. And the best part is that they will be less stressed to boot.