Youth Forum Dialogue Circles – Dealing with Social Academic Pressure

Dealing with Social Academic Pressure

Q1: Have you ever felt pressure to success academically?

Paly and Gunn are competitive – it’s hard to live up to standards.  Talk about colleges more than anything else.  Pushes you as well b/c everyone is doing better that you.  Feel inferior if you don’t get in to top notch schools.

Terribly life associated with top schools.  It’s ok to go to lower status school: there is stigma around this.

Where you go does not inform who you are.

When you leave high school it doesn’t matter, but in high school it does.

A lot is peer related – parents to give pressure. Pressure is internal and from peers.

Parental pressure with majority of school – Harvard, Princeton, Yale = happy parent.

A lot of brilliance in Palo Alto – tend to compare yourself to everyone else.

Lower math lanes = “dumb” judgment. Sense of being behind.

At middle school teachers talked about suicides.


Older you get you talk about it more and more. It’s the go to topic – common denominator. Something you have in common.

Stigma re: community college

Q3 & 4

Success = happiness

Other people’s definition of success = good school, $$$, good job

Success – doing what you want – follow gut/heart

Can’t quantify. Hard to define and different for each person.

Positive impact on other people

Parents = good college and happiness.

Only way to be happy is to get into good school (parents)

Getting through stuff.

Middle school – do what you want.


  1. Smaller schools = less competition, less prodigies who make you feel bad about yourself.
  2. Smaller schools = people notice if you’re not ok.
  3. Counselors – students don’t know who counselor is.

Round 2

Q1 – Culture @ Paly

Conversations at Gunn about tests/assignments.

Friends encouraged/pressure to take AP’s because it will look better on transcripts.

Study instead of clubs.

Pressure comes from paretns; expected to do “really well”. Carry family academic pressure.

Parents expect success – pressure put on self.


Converstaions about school = pressure. “I wonder if I should be doing more?”

Interest in doing well – when you see others doing well – pressure selves.

Hear complaining about tests – bragging as well. But w/ parents.

Negative connotation with “bragging.” Maybe need to change that.

What else could you talk about? Weather, vaccines, sports, games, other people

Q3 & 4

Mom defines success = good grades, college.  students define success – are you good at one thing and “personality”

Success – being happy and accepting (student). Parents would have same definition but would add good college.

Parent cares about sleep and well being. Success- being happy (student).

Parents/students may not have same definition.

Parents don’t care about grades; want to be involved in what of interest.

Bought into Palo Alto culture = less time with friends.  New definition is finding something you love doing.

Success = positive impact on other people.  Parents have minimum standards.  As long as you put in effort – need to keep grades up.

Ideas to shift definition of success:

  1. Culture problem – how to change culture.
  2. Talking to other students experiencing similar pressure.
  3. Disagree with limiting AP’s as a way to reduce pressure.
  4. AP’s and Academic is not the issue. Indvidual desire to achieve. People have to realize they don’t have to do that – better understanding of where success comes from.
  5. Look at what you want.

Round 3


Don’t feel peers say/tell, but when they accomplish you feel pressure.

Already assumed to be true – when hear about others performance – causes stress.  Tests are mportant.

Parents compare to peers (similar to teen dynamic).


Conversations not about academics.

ACT, GPA, SAT, College – come up a lot.  Ask to change subject.

Grades as common ground – comes up and can add pressure.

With friends zero talk about school. When zero know youth become competitive.

Friends in similar levels – common thing. Same classes – do talk about a lot.

As you move through high school you talk about it more as a junior and senior.

Self edification – even if you do everything right – people will/can still talk shit. So set own goals.  At end evaluation has to be your own.

How do you change the definition of success?

  1. What not to do – limit AP’s. It stops people from pursuing what they want to do. Educate on balance, rather than restrict AP’s.
  2. Stress of being left behind in “race” when AP’s restricted.
  3. AP’s note restricted – need academic rigor. But class may not be healthiest choice. But school should not restrict. There are both sides.
  4. Automatically calculate/judge people based on their classes/performance.
  5. Count smaller achievements as successes.
  6. Dream college and happiness. People feel they can’t fail. Skip classes to study fro next class/test. Sense that you can’t fail.
  7. Cheat – doing well – good college – people need to recognize progress, not just results.\
  8. Cheating Associated with consequences – not healthy. Cost benefit analysis happens if ok to cheat. Focus should not be on consequences.
  9. Focus should be on life lessons, not college as end goal.
  10. Make best of any situation – any college you get into can still work for you.
  11. Even if you fail – try to take away a learning.
  12. College makes their choice, we don’t have control.
  13. Focus on being a person and college as one part, not as end all be all.
  14. Morals and personhood first, then college.
  15. Parents “hand off” check at semester.
  16. Talking to peers is not bad, can relieve pressure.
  17. Talking with frends about grades/stress can be helpful.

Q3 & 4 Definition of Success

Happiness, not material; but since PA is affluent area there is underlying expectation that you have to be as well.

Accomplish a goal in life.

“Do and feel like I’m improving”

Get into college, academic, athletic – something you work towards.

Success feels better when you meet someone else’s definition.  Wants to untie self from this, but still prevalent.

Being happy – tangible efforts – get feeling of value, feel satisfaction.

Mom’s definition = Harvard

Own success – winning at videos. Small and large successes.

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