U.S. teens stressed-out, but not by academic pressures

October 18, 1999

ANN ARBOR---Two-thirds of the U.S. teens and young adults studied by University of Michigan researchers say they feel stressed at least once a week, and one-third say they're stressed every day.

Only one-third of the Japanese teens and young adults studied say they feel stress at least once a week, and less than 10 percent of the high school students say they're stressed every day.

The study of more than 8,000 students in high school and their early 20s was conducted by U-M psychologist Harold W. Stevenson and colleagues and funded by the National Science Foundation and the Grant Foundation. It is part of a series of studies conducted over the past 18 years examining cross-national differences in academic achievement.

"American students experience greater amounts of stress because of the unclear goals provided by their families and society," says Stevenson, a senior researcher at the U-M Center for Human Growth and Development. "They are expected to have a job, do chores, lead an active social life, engage in sports, and also do well in school. The conflicts experienced in trying to meet all of these challenges appear to result in a great deal of stress."

In contrast, Stevenson says, Japanese students know that parental and societal expectations focus on academic achievement. "Japanese parents support their children if they choose to engage in other activities," he says. "But the single most important goal they seek to inculcate in their children is a devotion to their schoolwork."

It's a common misconception, Stevenson points out, that emphasizing academic achievement produces high levels of student stress. "The charge is often made that the Japanese, along with other countries whose students are high-achievers, must pay a price for the high levels of performance and their greater devotion to studying. That price is assumed to be an increase in various types of psychological maladjustment."

But Stevenson's studies suggest that this isn't the case. U.S. students, who performed poorly on tests of 11th-grade math compared with students from Japan, Taiwan, and China, experienced a feeling of stress or being under pressure more often than East Asian students.

U.S. students also reported feeling anxious and aggressive more often. In particular, they were more likely to say they felt like hitting someone, destroying something, or getting into serious arguments or fights with other students in the month before being surveyed.

Even after high school and college age, young adults in the United States report feeling under stress and pressure more often than East Asians. "There's a lot of attention about the stress young people are under in high school and college," says Stevenson. "But it's just as high when they're out of school and on their own."
Contact: Diane Swanbrow
U-M News Service
412 Maynard
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1399
Phone: (734) 647-4416
E-mail: swanbrow@umich.edu
Web: http://www.umich.edu/~newsinfo/

University of Michigan

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