WHY ARE BAY AREA TEENS SO STRESSED?
This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.
Walk into downtown Palo Alto on any Friday afternoon, and you’ll find hundreds of kids of all ages hanging out and enjoying the California sun, seemingly carefree and blissful. As the global technological hub, Silicon Valley seems like the perfect place to be a teenager—beautiful, wealthy, and bustling with innovation and education. However, Silicon Valley has a dark side that accompanies these qualities—competition, external and internal pressure, and fear of failure. This constant stress caused there to be two suicide clusters within a decade of each other. Even one suicide cluster at a high school is extremely rare, and two within the same decade is almost unheard of. In Palo Alto alone, the teen suicide rate is four to five times as great as the national average. Beyond the suicides, studies have revealed that Bay Area students consider high stress to be normal for them. The normalization of this toxic environment has caused many students to raise the question: what is the cause of this high stress? What would a world without it look like?
As a Bay Area student, I have experienced this stress firsthand and watched many of my friends experience this stress. I have had many a mental breakdown over college and my future, and I feel immense pressure which I place on myself to succeed. I constantly feel as though everything that I do is not enough, that there must be more that I am able to fit into my tight schedule that will help me be accepted into a good university. I as well as many of my friends and students in Silicon Valley feel this way constantly. This never-ending stress does not allow us to enjoy our high school years or live in the moment, and in extreme cases leads to mental illness and suicide. A life with this stress being removed or reduced would be significantly better for not only the students but the entire Bay Area community. However, in order to understand how to solve for this stress, it is first necessary to identify the root of the stress. Although there have been many theories, I decided to investigate through in-depth one on one interviews to see if I could find the root of the stress and then come up with ideas to eliminate it.
In order to get to the root of the issue, I interviewed many different people from different grades, schools, and backgrounds to see what they had to say about stress. Below are two people who agreed to be videotaped. Their raw, honest interviews are an inside look into the stress of the Silicon Valley teen.
In all of the interviews I conducted, which included a wide variety of students from a wide variety of schools, everyone described the pressure and stress which they felt almost constantly. However, while most people believe that parents are the cause of this stress, everyone said that they put the pressure on themselves to succeed. Many stated that a large cause of stress was time pressure—not enough time for extracurriculars, homework, and sleep. Although many stated that less homework might help with stress, it definitely wouldn’t eliminate it. As the interviews ran on, it became clear to me that there were two types of stress that permeated every day life for a Silicon Valley teen. The first is day-to-day stress, which is dependent on temporary factors like homework, social, etc. This stress exists just as visibly for teenagers all around the world, but is likely stronger in the Bay Area because of the increased amount of homework and extracurriculars, as well as a pressure to take more advanced classes and do more extra-credit. Day-to-day stress changes every day—it may be very high one day but almost nonexistent a different day. The second kind of stress, as it was clear to me in both the interviews and my own experience, also differs every day, but it very constant and permeates all aspect of life. This stress is characterized by fear, a fear of failure and uncertainty. Many people spoke about their need to go to a selective college and their reactions if they weren’t admitted. When I pushed more, I found that there were two fears at the root of this all-encompassing stress. Although many felt like their parents weren’t pressuring them to go to a good college, the environment that other students perpetuated about their desire to go to a school caused them to feel as if it was necessary to go to a prestigious college in order to succeed. In addition, many of the students that I interviewed felt that the prestige of a school outweighed the education or their fit to the program. Although I am ashamed of this, I feel the same way. Living in the Bay Area, where everyone has very high aspirations, I also feel pressured to work hard to get into the selective schools simply for the prestige.
Obviously this is a toxic environment for every student, as many place their worth on how low the acceptance rate the college they get into is. However, the majority of stress comes from the culture perpetuated by other students rather than direct pressure from parents or the simple amount of homework there is. This possibility has already been explored by others trying to solve the stress problem in the Bay Area, and although support has been provided for students at risk of suicide, little has changed about the environment. In order to solve the problem, we have to solve the culture. So how does someone go about changing a culture?
Changing culture is more complex than it seems. It requires the participation and determination of everyone in the Bay Area, including students, parents, school administration, and even media outlets. However, it is possible.
Thank you all for reading this presentation! Please give feedback and advice–what next steps should the Bay Area take to reduce its stress? Leave your tips in the comments using sentences that start with “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.”
In the future, I plan to begin speaking to the administration at my school about implementing small information sessions about stress and how to avoid spreading it. I will also be an advocate for myself. If someone is stressing out about college, I will give them some perspective. Remember–when someone is stressed out, giving them perspective is the best thing you can do. Thank you for reading!
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Lee, Jacqueline. “CDC Report: Youth Suicide Rates in Santa Clara County Highest in Palo Alto, Morgan Hill.” The Mercury News, The Mercury News, 18 Aug. 2017, www.mercurynews.com/2017/03/03/cdc-report-youth-suicide-rates-in-county-highest-in-palo-alto-morgan-hill/.
Rosin, Hanna. “The Silicon Valley Suicides.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 20 Nov. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/12/the-silicon-valley-suicides/413140/.
“Palo Alto Teen Suicides Spark Fresh Debate on Stressful Student Life.” Peninsula Press, 21 Dec. 2014, www.peninsulapress.com/2014/12/19/palo-alto-teen-suicides-stressful-student-life-debate/.
Vargas, Ryann. “Father of Teen Who Committed Suicide Speaks Out.” NBC Bay Area, NBC Bay Area, 12 July 2016, www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Depression-Can-Hit-Anybody-Dad-of-Palo-Alto-Teen-Who-Committed-Suicide-Has-Message-For-Parents-380312611.html.
Wang, Yanan. “CDC Investigates Why so Many Students in Wealthy Palo Alto, Calif., Commit Suicide.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 Feb. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/02/16/cdc-investigates-why-so-many-high-school-students-in-wealthy-palo-alto-have-committed-suicide/?utm_term=.78bfeedd02ec.
Goyal, Nikhil. “After a String of Suicides, Students in Palo Alto Are Demanding a Part in Reforming Their School’s Culture.” Vice, 8 Sept. 2015, www.vice.com/en_us/article/7bdqy4/student-teaching-0000748-v22n9.