Study: Kids Feeling School Pressure

By Bryan Toporek — October 21, 2009 3 min read

Students feel significant levels of stress about schoolwork as early as elementary school reveals a new survey in Highlights, the children’s magazine . When asked, “What is your biggest problem right now?,” 23.4 percent of kids ages five and older responded “schoolwork,” according to Highlights’ “State of the Kid” Survey, which was released September 30.

In addition, 7.2 percent of the children said that, if they had five minutes to talk to the president, they would request he lessen their burdens at school. This was the third most popular response, only trailing “[the president] is good/excellent/well-liked” and “[I have] questions about the economy/unemployment taxes.”

The survey, designed to be a national platform for kids to voice about their concerns and experiences, was sent out in subscriber copies of March’s edition of Highlights, as well as being posted online at Eight hundred and forty-five responses were included in the final data file for analysis, all coming from children five and older.

In addition to e-mails received by the magazine throughout the year, the survey’s findings suggest that children today have a high level of anxiety about their performance in school and about completing the schoolwork assigned to them, the authors of the survey said.

“One thing is clear, kids are telling us that they feel a significant amount of pressure and anxiety about tests, and about what those tests mean for their future,” Highlights Editor-in-Chief Christine French Clark said.

However, the survey does not indicate whether students’ feelings of stress about school have increased over time.

Relationships also appear to pose difficulties for children, as nearly 25 percent of those surveyed named a relationship issue as their biggest problem (in descending order: siblings 8.7 percent, parents 8.1 percent, and friends 7.3 percent). Twenty-five percent of the respondents said they wanted to spend more time with their families, with more nine to 12 year-olds in that cohort than five to eight year-olds.

In an additional sign of childhood stress today, 6.6 percent of the kids surveyed—and 9.6 percent of the boys—said that, if they had an extra hour in the day, they would use it to sleep.

The survey’s authors noted that “While it would be typical to hear this from a teenager, to hear it from children younger than 12 was a bit of a surprise.”

Dr. Alanna Levine, a pediatrician consulted about the finding, noted that deprivation in preteens has become a growing health concern.

Teachers Popular

While they may have worries about school, many of the children indicated they have a positive view of their teachers. When asked, “Other than members of your own family, who is a person you admire and respect?,” 17.2 percent of the respondents named teachers, second in popularity only to friends. Despite the question’s phrasing, nearly 13 percent of the kids answered “parent.” Perhaps surprisingly, celebrities and popular culture figures got less than five percent of the total vote.

In their analysis of that breakdown, the survey’s authors note “that children learn best through positive examples… We weren’t surprised to learn that role models kids themselves cite are found closer to home.”

Listening to Children

Meanwhile, the wrap-up question on the survey—“What should grown-ups know about being a kid today?”—elicited some perplexing results. The top two responses, which comprised more than 50 percent of the total, were “Being a kid is hard” (28.9 percent) and “Being a kid is fun” (21.3 percent).

The report’s authors propose a possible rationale for that breakdown: “Amidst all the school work and stresses, many children still find their lives enjoyable but would like adults to see that it has its challenges.”

At the release event for the “State of the Kid” results, Highlights Editor-in-Chief Christine French Clark reminded attendees that for adults, it’s hard to relate to being kids, and that truly listening to kids’ opinions is the only way to gain an understanding of their unique perspective on the world.