Students Sacrifice Wellbeing for Academics

January 29th 2015, Written by Jahla Seppanen


In today’s education landscape, teenagers are asked to go above and beyond. The pursuit of excellence, however, can generate unhealthy perfectionism among students. The Indigo Education Company, as well as the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), believe that non-academic education is key to promoting both emotional health and academic achievement.

According to the 2014 annual survey by the American Psychology Association, teenage stress levels are far above those of working adults. Students express pressure to perform without flaw: to be the best in their classes, to win academic awards, and to take on extra-curricular activities by the handful. At this week’s Colorado Leadership Conference, Sheri Smith of the Indigo Education Company encouraged students to balance their personal dreams with external pressures.

Smith asked a room of over one hundred teenagers participating in FBLA, “How many of you have heard this before? ‘I think you should do this - you should go to this college, get these grades, and pursue this career.’” Every teenager in the room raised a hand.

“A should,” Smith explained to FBLA students, “is very different from a want.” Smith urged students to reconnect with their internal desires.

Smith asked FBLA students to share their personal desires by anonymously texting Smith’s cell phone. A stream of responses poured in: I want to be an aerospace engineer; I want to own my own business; I want to go to college out of state; I want to be happy, to be a mother, to love myself. The list of wants consisted of academic and career goals as well as hopes for personal wellbeing.

Smith believes that students have internalized perfectionist expectations and, in the process, have forgotten how to be happy.  “Learning to listen to your heart is a skill,” Smith said.

Developing non-academic skills, such as Confidence, Creativity, and Personal Effectiveness, can play a major role in balancing academic stressors. The Indigo Education Company and the FBLA both work to incorporate non-academic competencies into current education systems, enabling students to manage the stress associated with college applications and difficult homework.

A group of three students attending Smith’s talk explained that FBLA has given them the confidence to pursue their “wants” instead of their “shoulds.”

These girls are learning to reconnect with their individual goals, both academic and personal. “I’m the quiet type,” high school senior, Kailey, said. “[FBLA] helped me with Leadership, because I want to be in a position of influence and respect.”

Classmate Brianna said, “I’m very anti-social, and it’s given me experience in being social. [FBLA] built my confidence. School can feel like a popularity race, but now I feel like I should just be myself.”

Non-academic instruction can happen at school and in the home. Smith proposes an exercise for parents, which will help their students focus on the trajectory of their schooling while make the teenager feel acknowledged and listened to:

Ask your student what their “shoulds” are. Listen, but do not respond. Then ask the student to name their “wants.” What should result is a clear and honest look at the expectations your student is carrying, and the true passion they hope to develop through their education and career. Try helping your student develop a healthy notion of hard work that acknowledges their intrinsic brilliance.

Resource cited: http://www.nbcnews.com/health/kids-health/teens-more-stressed-out-adults-survey-shows-n26921

Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) is a non-profit education association servicing over a quarter million students with career skills that will prepare them for the business world. FBLA goals include, developing competent, aggressive business leadership, strengthening the confidence of students in themselves and their work, and creating more interest in and understanding of American business enterprise.