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What's it Like to be a Teen Today? | Teenage Pressure Cooker

Bainbridge Island Review - 5/28/2018

Earlier this year, 19-year-old Audrey Weaver wrote a "guest viewpoint" in the Review addressing the need for mental health education and awareness in high school and in the community. Audrey graduated from Bainbridge High School near the top of her class in 2017 and lives in Spokane, where she works and attends classes at Spokane Community College. She will transfer to Washington State University in the fall and study communications, political science or law.

On the surface, Audrey says she was happy in high school. She did well in her AP and honors classes, was captain of the cross-country team, raised money for charities and had many close friends. Yet, she felt disconnected and depressed.

Bainbridge Youth Services, a nonprofit that provides free mental health counseling for teens, wanted to know more about Audrey and asked her to discuss what it's like to be a teenager today and what advice she has for the class of 2018 as they prepare for graduation.

Here are excerpts from our BYS interview with Audrey:

How would you describe your high school experience?

I did everything I was supposed to do, believing this would make me happy and successful. This belief led to great confusion later on. I had created a good life for myself, yet I did not feel genuinely happy. I felt hopeless, disconnected, and didn't care about much anymore. I had no idea that these were symptoms of my depression. Many people reassured me that I would feel better after my AP tests were over, after my finals were over, after high school was over. I wanted them to be right, but they weren't. When I graduated I was more depressed than I had ever been; I had always believed that achievement would bring me happiness, but it left me feeling unfulfilled and inadequate.

What is your life like today?

A year later, I have realized that achievement and success do not equate to happiness. After graduating, I made the difficult decision to defer from college to take time away from school. I am living an unexpected life, but it is a life in which I feel happy and free from the pressure to be perfect. I have learned that my worth is not defined by my achievements, but in the belief that I am a good person.

What would you say to your former self and to the Class of 2018?

You are so much more than your achievements. People have opinions about who you should be, what you should do with your life and how you should accomplish these things. Listen to them, but trust that you know yourself and your path better than anyone else ever could. Your worth comes from within you. Don't stop listening to yourself… Trust your instincts and don't be afraid to fail or to take a different path. You will be OK.

Describe the pressures you faced in high school.

Throughout my time at Bainbridge High School, I lived by one rule: perfect or it's not enough. I believe this was the unspoken rule of the school, too. I learned very early that I needed to be competitive and driven in order to be recognized. In my junior and senior years, the pressure worsened as I realized that perfect grades weren't enough; I needed to score well on the SAT and get into a good college, too. When I graduated, I felt defeated; I had been unable to achieve perfection and felt like a failure.

How did you deal with those pressures?

I ignored them. For a long time, I was not even aware that I was dealing with such pressure and stress because it had become my normal. I submersed myself in school, sports, clubs, and anything else that would keep me busy and distracted. If I stopped, my stress consumed me. I was not taught healthy ways to deal with the pressure I faced at school, which negatively affected my mental health.

What is the culture like at BHS?

It's quite competitive. There are benefits to a competitive atmosphere; students drive each other to perform well, which in part explains Bainbridge High's impressive ranking, scores and graduation rate. Too much competition, however, had a very negative effect on me. I struggled in math classes and criticized myself because I was not as good as my peers. While this competition did drive me to perform well, the stress it caused outweighed the improvements in my academics.

If you could change anything at the high school what would it be?

I would assign less homework to students. Many students juggle a huge workload in addition to activities such as sports and clubs, and while school and homework should remain a priority, so should activities that improve students' mental health. Students might also get more sleep, which is vital in reducing stress and improving mental health and performance in school.

I would also like to see mental and emotional health education integrated into the school's curriculum. These classes or seminars would incorporate information about mental health and mental illness, ways to recognize and treat mental illness or stress, and coping skills to deal with stress.

Do you think Bainbridge Island is a difficult place to grown up? If so, why?

In some ways, growing up on Bainbridge Island was a wonderful experience. I received an excellent education, participated in a number of fun activities, and was always surrounded by a community I knew and loved. There were also downsides to my experience growing up on the island. Many parents, including my own, moved to Bainbridge because the schools have a very good reputation. I think this reputation created a lot of academic pressure within the community. I disliked telling people about the colleges I had applied to; many tried to convince me to attend a specific school or made negative remarks about the schools I was interested in. I wholeheartedly believe that the community wants the best for its students, and I think this can be accomplished by acknowledging that students are still kids and many do not yet know what they want out of life.

 
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