High school students care less about learning and more about grades and getting into college, according to a new study released by The Princeton Review, a leading academic tutoring, test preparation and college admission services company, from its first annual Student Life in America report
Student Life in America: Teens’ and Parents’ Perspectives on the High School Experience sheds light on students’ study habits, stress levels and feelings towards their education and future.
The verdict: good grades are important, learning doesn’t really matter and girls are far more stressed than their male peers when it comes to homework and grades.
The survey also looks into parents’ roles in students’ academic success and emotional well being as it relates to high school and suggests that despite sincere efforts, parents are unable or unsure of how to provide as much emotional support and academic assistance as their child desires. And forget about boyfriends/girlfriends, clothing choices or curfews; what parents and teens fight most about is screen time.
Stressed but happy
Due to the rigors of high school and homework, students are feeling the pressure. For example, teens say they spend a third of their study time feeling worried, stressed or stuck. Despite feeling stressed, students generally have a positive outlook with 56% stating that they feel happy on a typical school day and only 4% believing they will not get into their top choice college. The survey also revealed that while female students report feeling more stressed, distracted by social media, and less positive about their relationship with their teachers than their male peers do, girls are still more likely to maintain higher GPAs.
“With the increasing importance of earning a college degree and the challenges of college acceptance and affordability, the realities of student life have dramatically shifted,” said Mandy Ginsberg, CEO of Princeton Review. “Parents want to help their kids earn great grades and reach their college goals, but the study clearly outlines that the vast majority of parents can’t help or don’t know how to help their students on homework.”
Parents are trying to be a source of help, but 64% of teens feel they cannot turn to their parents for academic support because their parents aren’t familiar with the concepts being taught at school. It’s not all bad news; students believe they get positive moral support from their parents with more than 60% of students saying their parents commend them for receiving good grades.
“Straight-A students are not born — they’re made,” explains Katie O’Brien and Hunter Maats, co-authors of The Straight-A Conspiracy, who have tutored hundreds of students and were collaborators on the study. “Every student in America is capable of getting the grades he or she wants without all the stress. Managing your emotions, putting away the distractions, and creating a straightforward study plan that makes learning faster and more fun are far easier than most students and parents believe them to be.”
Key findings of the study include:
Destination > Journey – Students do not prioritize learning and instead, focus on the end goal of college acceptance.
- For students, getting good grades means getting into college – While 90% of students say that getting good grades is important, less than 10% say that succeeding in school is important because of the value of learning. Over 40% of students responded that getting into college is the main driver of their desire to get good grades.
- Students are confident about their college prospects – 31% of students say they will definitely get into their top four year college and 39% believe they “probably will” get in. Only 4% believe that they will not get into their top choice school.
Helicopter Parenting? – Parents aren’t hovering as close as they think.
- Students don’t see their parents as an academic resource – 64% of kids feel they can’t turn to their parents for academic help because their parents aren’t familiar with the concepts being taught in school.
- Students don’t feel parents are as supportive as parents think they are – Only 43% of kids say their parents check in with them about their grades more often than monthly, compared to 76% of parents. 50% of students respond that parents encourage them to do better when they receive bad grades while 77% of parents claim to do so.
- Online habits are parents’ and teens’ biggest source of contention – High school students (28%) and parents (21%) agree that they most often fight about how much time teens spend and what they do online.
The Birds vs. The Bees – Girls are higher achieving and their desire to do well makes them more stressed than their male counterparts.
- Teen boys are more content: Girls are more stressed than boys on a typical school day and are more likely to describe themselves as ‘tired’ (20%) and ‘stressed’ (19%) while boys are more likely to say they are ‘content'(19%) and ‘bored'(19%).
- Teen girls care more about success: 21% of girls reported their personal desire to do well is their biggest source of stress, versus 14% of boys.
- Teen girls have a stronger work ethic: Girls spend more time studying and doing homework – an average of 2.12 hours compared to 1.53 hours for boys.
- Parents still believe STEM stereotypes: Parents of boys are more likely than parents of girls to say their child’s favorite subject is math, even though boys and girls choose math as their favorite subject equally.
- Teen boys handle authority better: 31% of boys say they have a very good relationship with their teacher versus 24% of girls.
The Glass is Half Full – Students are happy despite feeling stressed.
- The majority of students are happy: 56% of students say they are happy on a typical school day. 31% say they feel neutral.
- Homework is the biggest source of stress: 25% of students say homework is their biggest source of stress followed by grades (18%), their desire to do well (17%), other kids (8%), and getting into college (8%).
- Stress is hindering students’ productivity: Parents think kids are spending significantly more study time being productive, while kids say they spend 1/3 of their time feeling worried, stressed or stuck.
iClassroom – Technology and education are inseparable and while smartphones prove to be a source of distraction, many students also use them for school work.
- Smartphones are used for schoolwork more than parents realize – 97% of students use an electronic device (laptop, computer, tablet, smartphone) outside of class to help them study and do school work, and 79% of students use an electronic device in class to help them study and do school work.
- Phones are distracting but they don’t interfere with success: Girls are significantly more likely than boys to have sent a text, Snapchat, or Instagram upload during class when they weren’t supposed to, yet high school girls (28%) are more likely to report having a 4.00 GPA or higher versus high school boys (21%).
“These findings are intriguing and surprisingly insightful of students,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas. “Students do not need to spend a third of their study time stressed and stuck. In my research and programs, we recommend interval training to families. We encourage teens to temporarily turn off their screens, even if just for 30 minutes at a time, to engage in deeper level learning. Parents find it reduces the nightly struggle over online usage. Plus students tend to finish their homework faster and sleep better.”
The study was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 1010 high school age students, 1010 parents of high school age students and an additional 450 high school age students and 450 parents of high school age students. The total of 2920 individuals were 50% male and 50% female and represented a mix of household incomes, education levels and ethnicities.
A companion article from O’Brien and Maats, about how students can learn without stress, is available here: www.princetonreview.com/high-school-stress