If I think back to those years, ages 11 - 15 or so, I don't remember feeling really stressed about school. Maybe my mother would say differently, but I don't think I had the same pressures kids have now. I remember carefree afternoons, riding my bike for hours, hanging out with my friends in the tree house, and spending lots of time talking on the phone after school . House phone, of course - the kind with the squiggly line connected to the wall, where if you were lucky, the line stretched far enough so you could sit somewhere a little out of the way.
My own kids are hardly the over-scheduled kind. Sometimes they play a sport, but not every season. One is involved in a few after school clubs. The other two are not. They have some chores, but not many. They do their own laundry and keep their rooms neat (in theory). And yet, they are more stressed than I remember being at their age.
I see this happening with kids at school as well. There seems to be a high level of anxiety - not all about getting good grades. Some kids are anxious about getting to their lockers on time to then make it to the bus. Others start packing up 5 minutes before class ends because they are anxious about getting to the next place. Some of them, including my own children, are super-anxious about their school work - either getting it done on time, or doing it right, or making sure they get an A. 2 out of my 3 children are very invested in getting good grades, although we don't consciously put pressure on them. We opted them out of state mandated testing last year and will again this year, for the same reasons - high levels of anxiety around testing. Even so, school is a big stressor for them.
The anxiety plays out in my students in the form of headaches, stomach aches, twitching faces that look like they may cry any second, and just plain not wanting to go to school.
In my day, kids were much more prone to being bullied, ignored, or socially outcast. Our middle school is much more attuned to the social/emotional needs of kids, and is a mostly accepting and diverse place, in every sense of the word. Of course, there is a different kind of pressure for kids today because of the whole online and social media world, which I thankfully didn't have to deal with when I was a teen.
The last night of our winter vacation, 2 of our kids were in tears about going back to school (I almost was too, I should add). I tried to get them to think about happy upcoming events; we put lavender oil all over; we did deep breathing; we lit scented candles. Still, the anxiety was palpable and no one got to sleep at a decent hour. That Monday at school, the students were also extra whiny and out of sorts.
I think that this anxiety and stress are issues we need to address more in our schools. It probably does not help that educators are also so stressed as well - schools have to take better care of that issue, too.