Under pressure

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Teenagers hear it from adults all the time.

"Don't give in to that peer pressure!" a well-meaning adult will say.

It is true that teenagers can sway their peers toward drugs or alcohol. I can attest to this, having been a teenager not too long ago. Peer pressure certainly exists in a tangible way, but I always felt more pressure from another age group. That's right: The adults in my life made me more nervous than my peers ever did.

That pressure came from my mom and my school counselor and my teachers and anybody else who thought I was capable of being somebody worthwhile. All these people wanted me to do great things, and I did appreciate their help. Still, I often found myself drowning in all their advice.

"Have you thought about college?" my counselor asked during my freshman year of high school.

"Are you sure you don't want to take AP Biology?" my science teacher asked before I agreed to take the more advanced class.

"How are you going to make it on your own if you can't do your own laundry?" my mother asked the summer before I went to college.

I couldn't respond the way I wanted to. You can't say "I'm not sure" to someone who seems to know exactly what you need to do to be successful. You'd basically be saying that you aren't interested in doing well, and that would be a lie. Of course you want to succeed. Who doesn't? That doesn't mean you need 50 different people telling you how to do that.

All that pressure can generate such anxiety that you don't know how to move forward. Suddenly, it's really scary to think about the future. When you finally let yourself do that, you have to confront the fear of applying to universities or other post-high school programs. Those applications involve the dreaded standardized test, a part of the process most people -- young and old -- resent.

The standardized college admission test takes hours to complete and costs way too much money to take, yet it's the mechanism through which admissions representatives decide your worth. Extracurricular activities matter. Your grade point average matters. Your volunteerism is important, too.

Unfortunately, how you score on a test you can take in a day can sometimes overrule the resume you've built up over years. For students who aren't natural test-takers but do well on projects and other extracurriculars, the standardized test can be especially upsetting. My best friend Dora is one of these people. She did really well in high school, was active in FFA and band, stayed after school to help teachers and excelled on long-term projects.

I had good grades, too, but I certainly wasn't as involved with the school as she was. I didn't volunteer. I didn't join very many clubs. I did get a 29 on the ACT. Somehow, that outweighed everything else when I applied to colleges. Dora didn't do so well on that test and, in turn, didn't qualify for as many scholarships as I did.

She is an incredible person. She's kind, intelligent, funny and cares about others way more than she cares about herself. If anybody deserved to get a full ride to college, it was her. I'll never be OK with the fact that my best friend's worth was gauged by a stupid standardized test.

This happens to too many young people for us to ignore it. I don't have a solution to propose, but I do have a message for all those teenagers out there who are facing this pressure.

You are already important. If you've made someone laugh or smile even once, you matter. I hope you measure your self-worth by your relationships with others, because the people around you will shape your character more than any test ever will.

Keep your head up. A few years from now, you won't even care about how you did on the ACT.

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Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com