December 14, 2013
What is the world coming to if we find ourselves scared of living a normal life because we never know what will happen?
Instead of blaming the gun or mental health, why don’t we blame the real problem? Us… Society.
Teenagers in high school have some of the highest stress induced situations. We are expected to:
· Have good grades – Students are more likely to report that they worry about things related to school than parents perceive. 44% of all children ages 8 – 17 reported that doing well in school is a source of worry compared to only 34% of parents who report this as a source of stress for their child[i].
· Take honors and AP classes - A study of 6,294 students at 15 high-achieving schools reveals that some students who work hard in school may be compromising their mental and physical health in the pursuit of top grades[ii].
· Be involved in sports and extracurricular activities - The greater the amount of time adolescents report spending in regularly scheduled structured activities, the higher their self-reported level of anxiety tends to be[iii].
· Complete at least four hours of homework - 26% of all students grades 3-12 say homework is just busywork and unrelated to what they are learning in school[iv].
· Spend time with our families
· Have a social life
· And on top of it all get at least eight hours of sleep - Teens need 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep each night. 80% of teens don’t get the recommended amount of sleep. At least 28% fall asleep in school, and 22% fall asleep doing homework[v].
After all this, we’re told that a 4.0 GPA and a perfect ACT score are not enough to stand out among the other students trying to get into university. Twenty nine percent of children aged 13-17 report that they worry about getting into a good college and deciding what to do after high school, while only 5% of parents of 13-17 year-olds believe this is a source of stress for their child[vi].
How can anyone live this life? You would have to be a superhero.
Challenge Success out of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education synthesized research and released the following statistics[vii] related to the increased stress that high school students face:
· For adolescents aged 13-15, there is a noted relationship between increased school distress and an increased risk of psychosomatic symptoms, such as headache, stomach aches, and backaches.
· Academic stressors are associated with increases in both depressive and aggressive symptoms in girls and aggressive symptoms in boys.
· In 2011 15.8% of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months. 12.8% of high school students made a plan about how they would attempt suicide, and 7.8% of students attempted suicide one or more times.
· Suicide is the 4th largest cause of death among people between the ages of 10 and 24 after accidents, homicide and unintentional injury.
· Adolescents report several reasons why they cheat on tests, including: fear of failure, parents demanding good grades, wanting to keep up with others, wanting to get a good grade, and feeling that the teacher is unfair.
· 73% of students listed academic stress as their number one reason for using drugs, yet only 7% of parents believe teens might use drugs to deal with stress.
· Suburban youth are more likely to report using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate (to decrease feelings of stress and depression) compared to normative and urban youth populations.
The pressures we feel from society, our schools, our parents and our peers are pushing us to react and act out. We are putting ourselves in a metaphorical Hunger Game. We are fighting to stand out, and get to the top at any cost. And if we fail in that quest, what then? All our lives, we have been conditioned to do better, and do more. Who wouldn’t react drastically when they feel that everything they’ve worked for is over? If we continue with the way things are, where will we end up? How can we be expected to live in a society where our best is never enough?
There are so many questions. But if we want the world to change, we must change the way our society is structured, first.
Next year, The Blossom Project will be exploring this topic. We invite you to be part of this conversation: www.blossomproject.org.
The 2013 Blossom Project participants
Emma, Khulan, Sydney, & Sofia
[i] American Psychological Association. (2009). Stress in America 2009. Retrieved from:
[ii] Conner, J., & Pope, D. (2013). Not just robo-students: Why full engagement matters and how schools can promote it. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Retrieved from
[iii] Melman, S., Little, S. G., & Akin-Little, K. A. (2007). Adolescent overscheduling: The relationship between levels of participation in scheduled activities and self-reported clinical symptomology. The High School Journal, 90 (3), 18-30.
[iv] MetLife survey of the American teacher: The homework experience. A survey of students, teachers and parents. (2007). Retrieved from: http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED500012&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED500012
[v] National Sleep Foundation. (2006). Press Release 2006: Stick to routines.
[vi] American Psychological Association. (2009). Stress in America 2009. Retrieved from:
[vii] Challenge Success High school Data retrieved from http://www.challengesuccess.org/Portals/0/Docs/ChallengeSuccess-DoYouKnow-High.pdf
On Sunday, 11 February, 1990, a little after 4p.m., Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I watched with my family as he triumphantly raised his fists in the air. There were tears, there were cheers, and a profound sense that I was witness to an incredible moment in history. I fell in love with South Africa that day.
The country's first, fully representative, democratic election was held on 27 April 1994. I was not old enough to vote. But I did accompany my parents, and watched with deep joy as they voted for the first time, for president. I proudly called myself South African that day.
The pride and joy I felt for my country grew tremendously throughout Mr. Mandela's presidency. In particular, his focus on two population groups shaped my social awareness: women & youth.
In his opening address to South Africa's first democratic parliament in 1994, Mr. Mandela said:
“It is vitally important that all structures of government, including the President himself, should understand this fully: that freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”
Recognizing the importance of women and women's leadership, Mr. Mandela committed to an informal quota of having at least 30 percent of his parliament represented by women.
And to honor the women who fought for freedom and forged the path for justice, August 9th in South Africa is designated as National Women's Day.
Mr. Mandela's government reviewed the country's public holidays to ensure that the calendar was reflective of the total experience of all the people. As such, June 16th is commemorated as National Youth Day, for the young people who gave their lives during the Soweto Uprisings of 1976.
Youth have been very important to Mr.Mandela. He was one of the founders of The African National Congress Youth League - the organization that influenced his leadership.
As president, he was keenly aware of the responsibilities that lay with the next generation - he challenged and inspired them. In 2005, in an address to youth at the "Make Poverty History" campaign , Mr. Mandela passed the baton of action to all young people:
"I am proud to wear the symbol of this global call to action in 2005. This white band is from my country. In a moment, I want to give this band to you – young people ... – and ask you to take it forward along with millions of others to the G8 summit in July. I entrust it to you. I will be watching with anticipation".
"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom".
These words have been the inspiration for The Blossom Project. I am proud that this program has been created from the inspiration of a true hero. I will continue to honor the life and vision of this extraordinary man, in all that The Blossom Project continues to do.
I hope that you, too can find inspiration from Mr. Mandela.
Hamba Kahle, Madiba.
Blossom Project Participants
We are empowered high school girls, inspired to make a positive difference in the world.