EMOTIONAL HEALTH
February 20, 2020

Teens Don't Feel So Good

Researchers surveyed 21,000 high schoolers about how they felt. This is what they learned.

“Tired.” “Stressed.” “Bored.” These were the most common answers high school students gave in a recent nationwide survey when researchers from Yale University asked them how they felt. When asked to put their feelings in their own words, nearly three-quarters of the emotions they reported were negative ones.

The survey of over 21,000 students measured student feelings in two different ways. First they were asked to think about their positive and negative feelings in school and describe them in three blank text boxes. The most common feeling reported was tired (58 percent). Stressed and bored were the next two most frequent responses.

Parents may not be able to help with the boredom, but they can help their teens get a little more sleep.

They were also given a list of feelings that ran from happy and proud on the positive side to afraid, stressed and bored on the negative and asked to rate on a scale of 0 to 100 how often they felt them. Stressed (79.8) and bored (69.5) earned the highest ratings.

A second smaller study by the same researchers came up with similar findings. When surveyed about their feelings at specific moments during the school day, 472 students from five Connecticut high schools reported negative feelings 60 percent of the time.

Tiredness should be the easiest problem to address by starting school later in the day. The later their school starts, the more sleep teens get, which is one reason why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later. However, the vast majority of schools still start earlier.

The switch to daylight saving time makes matters even worse, with some children forced to set out for school while it's still dark outside.

Unfortunately, decisions about school start times aren't always made with students' health and welfare in mind. “There has been a movement in recent years to move school start times later,” said study co-author, Zorana Ivcevic, a Research Scientist at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. “The reasons for not moving it have nothing to do with students' wellbeing or their ability to learn.” Instead, these decisions are often driven by concerns about athletic programs, extracurricular activities and transportation.

It's been so long since some parents went to high school that their memories of it may have mellowed. High school is not a happy time for many of its students, and realizing this may give parents a better understanding of just what their children are going through. They may not be able to help with the boredom, but there are many ways they can help their children get a little more sleep so they won't be so tired. For details, see “Rest-Less Teens” and “Behind Teens' Late Nights.”

The two studies appear in Learning and Instruction.
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