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Psychologist discusses stress in students

by Nicky Kaufman and Andrew Mannix
Thursday night in the auditorium, this school welcomed Dr. Michael Thompson to speak about his book “The Pressured Child,” which discusses the stresses placed on the everyday lives of students.
Thompson, a psychologist at the Belmont Hill School, often travels the country to speak about the rigors of schooling and the increased anxiety academia can cause.
“Many kids think that getting into college is hard,” he said. “As a result, they feel pressure on all sides to succeed in school.”
He discussed how many kids that are in “excellent” school systems like the Newton Public Schools often feel as if there are only a few elite colleges that they can attend. Many of these students become competitive and stressed as they vie for the precious seats at these schools.
“Stanford let in 5% of applicants last year. Harvard rejected 3,000 valedictorians,” Thompson said, explaining how hard it is to get into these exclusive schools. “A lot of these students don’t realize that there are other schools out there and only continually focus on these few.”
As a result, Thompson said that he has dealt with many students facing school induced stress issues that can cause many erosive emotions such as panic attacks and anxiety.
Thompson further spoke about how these kids are faced with pressure in school from a very early age. “There are parents that will find a preschool that will end up sending the most kids to Princeton and try to enroll their kid there. Parents will literally play the odds with their three year old.”
Thompson said he felt disheartened by the way schoolwork can interfere with the daily lives of students. He relayed an experience he had visiting an elite private middle school in Beverly Hills. He was surprised to see that 21 of the class of 23 had at least one tutor for their upcoming entrance exam to an elite private high school. Twelve had at least two tutors, and two students had three tutors.
When Thompson chatted with one of the students with three tutors, he asked what the student would do if he did not have to spend so much time studying. The student replied that he would, “finally have time to ride his bike.”
“These students are made to feel as if they are starting off their careers when they are kids,” he said, “but through their intense work they lose some of the most basic fun activities of childhood.”

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