It has been disconcerting to read so many news stories about student stress and anxiety in the past year.  Recently, a student survey conducted by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) – Canada’s largest – revealed that most teenage students are worried about their future all the time or sometimes.  Many say they are constantly tired and they have trouble concentrating.  In this survey, and in qualitative feedback coming out of McGill University’s Mental Health Services in December 2012 – just before final exams – students cited that they felt like “crying all the time.”  This is remarkable. I don’t recall ever feeling that way as a student.  So what’s different?

Certainly on the surface, the future doesn’t look rosy.  Students today – empowered by social media – are much more aware of the state of the economy. All we hear about is growing unemployment, housing bubbles, and ever rising commodity costs leading to a higher consumer cost of living. But are they looking at the future with the wrong lens?  If you’re a student today, there are baby boomers who have started the transition to retirement – 9.6 million of them will be retiring over the next 20 years.  That’s a lot of job vacancies!  Granted, many employers will take advantage of this and choose not to replace many of those jobs, but not all 9.6 million of them!  Isn’t that hopeful?  It’s certainly not hopeless.

But let’s look at how quickly this full glass gets empty.

I would suggest that parenting has a lot to do with the mental health of today’s students.  I would be curious to see a more detailed cross correlation data of the TDSB survey. Students from lower income families understandably would bear a lot of stress.  There are so many other external factors that affect them.  But what about the role of ethnicity?  Tiger Moms – who are usually of a certain ethnicity (ahem – I can say that; I’m Chinese) – put so much undue pressure on their children to excel, not just to “do your best”.  More like “you better damn well be perfect or you will put your family to shame!”  No pressure there.

So on one side, we have these students of certain ethnic backgrounds who are pressured to be perfect and have a reputation for being so, and on the other side, we have the “average” non-ethnic students who are now competing on a much different playing field.  The bar has been raised so high, and now everyone’s stressed!

Then there’s the issue of  the thinning of the ozone layer and all the environmental concerns that come with it.  And what about all this talk of the depletion of our natural resources?  Let’s face it: how would you feel if you were told the earth is being scorched and might not exist by the time you’re 50? I’d be pretty darned pissed off at my parents for being so greedy!

Oh, and by the way, how would you feel if you found out that your parents’ pension plan doesn’t exist anymore and they’re going to become dependent on your income to get through their much longer-than-anticipated lifespan?

Hmmm… we just sucked that glass dry. Yup, kids, you have every right to be stressed.  The future looks pretty bleak for you, so you better study and work harder so that you can fix all the problems we created for you.

And by the way, sorry.

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