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Survey: Students Report Mainly Negative Feelings About High School

In a nationwide survey of 21,678 U.S. high school students, nearly 75% of their self-reported feelings regarding school were negative. In fact, the most commonly cited emotion was “tired.”

The study, conducted by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Yale Child Study Center, is published in the Journal of Learning and Instruction.

In a second “experience sampling” study, 472 high school students in Connecticut reported their feelings at distinct moments throughout the school day. These momentary assessments told the same story: High school students reported negative feelings 60% of the time.

“It was higher than we expected,” said co-author and research scientist Zorana Ivcevic. “We know from talking to students that they are feeling tired, stressed, and bored, but were surprised by how overwhelming it was.”

The students represent urban, suburban, and rural school districts across all 50 states and both public and private schools. The results show that all demographic groups reported mostly negative feelings about school, but girls were slightly more negative than boys.

“Overall,” said co-author Marc Brackett, “students see school as a place where they experience negative emotions.”

In the first online survey, students were asked to “think about the range of positive and negative feelings you have in school” and provide answers in three open text boxes. They were also asked to rate on a scale of 0 (never) to 100 (always) how often they experienced 10 emotions: happy, proud, cheerful, joyful, lively, sad, mad, miserable, afraid, scared, stressed and bored.

In the open-ended responses, the most commonly cited emotion was tired (58%). The next most-reported emotions — all just under 50% — were stressed, bored, calm, and happy. The ratings scale supported the findings, with students reporting feeling stressed (79.83%) and bored (69.51%) the most.

When those feelings are examined with more granularity, said Ivcevic, they reveal something interesting. The most-cited positive descriptions — calm and happy — are vague.

“They are on the positive side of zero,” Ivcevic said, “but they are not energized or enthusiastic.” Feeling “interested” or “curious,” she noted, would reveal a high level of engagement that is predictive of deeper and more enduring learning.

She added that many of the negative feelings may be interrelated, with tiredness, for example, contributing to boredom or stress.

“Boredom is in many ways similar to being tired,” she said. “It’s a feeling of being drained, low-energy. Physical states, such as being tired, can be at times misattributed as emotional states, such as boredom.”

The researchers noted that the way students feel at school has important implications in their performance and their overall health and well-being. “Students spend a lot of their waking time at school,” Ivcevic said. “Kids are at school to learn, and emotions have a substantial impact on their attention. If you’re bored, do you hear what’s being said around you?”

“It is possible that being tired is making school more taxing,” Ivcevic said, “so that it is more difficult for students to show curiosity and interest. It is like having an extra weight to carry.”

Unfortunately, she added, decisions about school start times are typically made without the students’ health and wellbeing in mind. “There has been a movement in recent years to move school start times later,” she said.

“The reasons for not moving it have nothing to do with students’ wellbeing or their ability to learn.” Instead, these decisions are often driven by concerns about athletic programs, extracurricular activities, and transportation.

Source: Yale University

Survey: Students Report Mainly Negative Feelings About High School

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Survey: Students Report Mainly Negative Feelings About High School. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 9, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/02/07/survey-students-report-mainly-negative-feelings-about-high-school/153829.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 7 Feb 2020 (Originally: 7 Feb 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 7 Feb 2020
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