People of a certain age (basically: anyone who’s been out of high school for at least a decade or two) like to say things like, “High school kids today have it too easy. Back in my day, we used to…” before spouting off some hyperbolic hardship. They had to walk to and from school in the snow and write out school assignments by hand until their fingers bled. Sure, there are some ways that high school in a pre-internet age was probably difficult. But the truth is, the life of a modern teen is like a carnival of horrors. High school has never been more perilous, more demanding, and more outright terrifying. Don’t believe us? Here are 27 ways that high school is so much worse in 2018 than anything you had to endure as a teen.
Privacy is nonexistent.
Whatever the pressures of school during your youth, at least you could go home at the end of the day and not feel like you were under a microscope. Not anymore. Thanks to social media, every flaw and idiosyncrasy of kids today is on constant display to their peers (and the world).
Students work too hard.
Think kids today have it easy? Not by a long shot. The National Center for Education Statistics reviewed recent high school transcripts and found that high school seniors were taking an average of 27.2 credits, a big increase from the 23.6 credits that was common among seniors in 1990. What’s more, 13 percent of students undergo a rigorous course schedule, compared to just 5 percent in 1990.
Blame it on the Internet or insane workloads, but teens are less socially involved than ever. In a recent survey by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, incoming college students admitted to spending half as many hours socializing with friends during their final year of high school as students had in 1987.
They’re getting less sleep.
Remember when the biggest concern for a teen was getting too much sleep and stumbling in late to their first class? Today’s teens have the opposite problem. The medical journal Pediatrics revealed that about 55 percent of American teenagers, ranging in age from 14 to 17, were getting less than seven hours a night, considerably less than the National Sleep Foundation recommendation of 8 to 10. (That figure drops to a recommended 7 to 8 for full-grown adults.)
Classes are too full.
Both public and private schools are getting more crowded than ever, and by some accounts there can be as many as 40 kids squeezed into a single classroom. For a teen who might need a little extra attention to stay academically focused, the cards are stacked against them.
School shootings are increasingly common.
According to the U.S. Education Department, in a recent school year nearly 240 schools reported “at least one incident involving a school-related shooting.” On top of all the other pressures of high school, walking through a metal detector and passing armed security guards in the hallways is a sad new reality for many kids.
Students might be getting spied on.
Or at least they are in Rhode Island. An ACLU report found last year that at more than 60 schools, the laptops loaned to students were equipped with webcams used to spy on kids, both at school and at home. Similar cases happened in Pennsylvania and Los Angeles, with some school administrators claiming they only monitored kids to make sure they weren’t having suicidal thoughts.
Gym class is no longer just about gym.
Remember when gym used to involve doing something physical, like climbing ropes and playing dodgeball? That still happens, but according to the New York Times, gym teachers are being increasingly pressured to “incorporate literary skills and informational text into gym classes.” It’s unclear how that would work, but it sounds terrible.
School lunches are disgusting.
“But wait,” you may be protesting, “high school cafeteria food has always been awful.” Oh, but not this awful. A government report found that, in the last decade, there’ve been a record-setting 300 outbreaks of food poisoning at public schools, sickening up to 16,000 students. Food-borne illnesses have been rising by 10 percent every year.
Clothing bans are more restrictive than ever.
There’s always been a limit to what you could get away with wearing at school. But dress codes have gotten especially strict over the past decade. School officials are measuring skirts in Kentucky, passing out “modesty ponchos” at prom, and banning American flag t-shirts during Cinco de Mayo.
College stress is astronomical.
Getting into college is easy, as long as you have a perfect GPA, plenty of extracurricular experience, and the wherewithal to navigate a complicated and stress-inducing student-loan process to pay prohibitively and increasingly expensive tuitions. (According to the nonprofit College Board, annual tuitions for private colleges in 2017 averaged more than $34,000).
Stupid group dares have gotten way more dangerous.
Historically, teenagers have never had good common sense when it comes to peer pressure. But for the most part, it used to be innocent fun, like seeing how many bodies could cram into a phone booth or the always-popular Seven Minutes in Heaven. But modern teens have to contend with dares like The Tide Pod Challenge, or “trunking” (when car passengers ride inside the trunk), which aren’t just amazingly stupid but could injure or even kill them.
Cyberbullying is worse than real bullying.
Bullies don’t need to find you anymore to hurt you. Thanks to the Internet, a kid can be viciously mocked, 24/7, from the comfort of a bully’s phone or laptop, and there’s not much they can do on the defensive front.
School dances have gotten way too expensive.
According to some estimates, the average teenager in recent years typically spends up to $600 for a prom dress. If you tried telling your parents in the ’80s or ’90s that you needed six bills to dress up and slow-dance to Journey songs in a high school gymnasium, they would have laughed you out of the house.
There are too many extracurricular activities.
It’s not enough to have a 4.0 GPA. Today’s teens also need to fill every other waking hour in their day with some activity, from playing sports to being in special interest clubs to volunteering for countless hours of community service to mastering a musical instrument or language. Eighteenth-century farmers had more free time.
STDs are on the rise.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that rates of syphilis and chlamydia are at an all-time high, and gonorrhea could soon become resistant to all current antibiotics. If you have a teen who hasn’t been sat down for “the talk,” it might be time to do so.
Mistakes never go away.
One of the best things about growing up in the last century is that however badly you screwed up—and part of being young is screwing up, repeatedly and embarrassingly—at least only a handful of people witnessed it and it was soon forgotten. Today, every fashion misstep, every stupid decision, every overestimation of your own abilities, is broadcast to the world online. And it stays there forever.
Parents are too involved.
Helicopter parenting sometimes continues into high school. Teens have gotten so coddled and overprotected by their parents, says Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, that by the time they get to college, they’re too timid and terrified of making mistakes, they don’t step out of their comfort zone.
They’re learning less.
Remember cursive writing? Yeah, most high school students are never taught how to do it. Even if you buy arguments that writing on paper has become obsolete in 2018, there are reports that fancy lettering isn’t the only skill taking a hit. One study found that just one in four high school seniors were achieving any proficiency in math, and a slightly better 37 percent were proficient in reading.
Adderall abuse is on the rise.
Teen drug abuse is nothing new, but kids used to seek out substances as a way of relaxing and escaping. Today’s teens, if you take it from a Los Angeles Times report, seek out Adderall, an amphetamine that helps with focus and energy. So, to summarize, they’re taking Adderall so they can not sleep for a week, work themselves to death, and graduate into a debt-laden college education, despite barely understanding math.
Getting a date for the prom might involve calling a celebrity publicist.
Internet-savvy teens are using social media and YouTube to convince their favorite celebs to be their prom dates. And it’s working, with everyone from Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Shaun White, Mila Kunis, Betty White, Justin Timberlake and Kate Upton agreeing to show up and slow dance with their high school fans. Now, simply getting a date with that guy or gal you like in pre-calc feels like slumming it.
Passing notes to friends between classes is a lost art.
Sure, this might not immediately sound “horrifying.” But texting has none of the danger and clandestine thrills of trying to slip a paper note to a classmate without the teacher noticing. Staring at their phones have turned modern teenagers into zombies, a far cry from when communicating with peers in high school used to involve actual effort. It’s a lost art form, and it’s worth mourning.
They live in an era of widespread misinformation
The Internet may seem like a gift for a high school student looking to research a term paper or study for a test. And it can be, assuming your teacher is okay with facts that are kinda-sorta true. According to numerous studies, there’s quite a bit of false or blatantly untrue information being circulated online, and it’s become increasingly difficult to tell the difference. At least Wikipedia is still mostly reliable, with an accuracy rate at 80 percent, according to a study published in the Reference Services Review.
Teachers are more underpaid than ever.
Teachers have never gotten fair salaries, but it’s actually gotten worse than ever before. The Economic Policy Institute found that teacher wages have been steadily declining over the last two decades, with an average weekly salary of $1,122 in 1996 dropping to $1,092 in 2015. What could be better than getting your education from people who can barely afford to feed and clothe themselves?
The slang all sounds like computer code.
To be fair, teenage slang has always been ridiculous. But at least you could communicate with other teens using words that sounded like words. Modern slang sounds like a bunch of alien gibberish or impossible to decode acronyms. To avoid being socially ostracized at high school, you have to keep up with a constantly evolving language shorthand that’s just slightly more complicated then HTML coding.
They have the worst generational nickname ever.
Psychologist Jean Twenge has coined a new name for the generation born between 1995 and 2012: They’re “iGens”—because, well, they use their iPhones a lot, and they value individualism, thus the emphasis on “i.” We have no idea if this is going to catch on, but it is profoundly stupid, and today’s high schoolers have to decide if they’re actually going to refer to themselves this way.
There are fines for just about anything.
We’re not talking about late fees for overdue books at the school library. In states from Utah to Oklahoma, students can be fined up to $250 for being even 15 minutes late to class. And if they’re late frequently enough, that could result in two weeks of prison time! Students can be fined thousands for cheering during graduation, cursing in class, or attempting to eat a second lunch. Any kid who gets out of high school without going into debt is one of the lucky ones.