AP English (39230)There’s been a lot of research conducted lately about the amount of stress that high school seniors are enduring. Apparently it’s skyrocketed recently, and researchers and social scientists are trying to figure out why this is and what can be done.

This is pretty shocking, considering that students of this age have a never-before-achieved level of freedom and independence, but generally still don’t have a ton of responsibility. Sure, there’s the high schooler who’s working to help support his family, or the college freshman who is also a mother, but the average American 17-19 year old is living what most grown adults would consider a pretty enviable life.

TV and movies make high school seem like a never-ending parade of proms and parties. It’s rare to see a kid on TV studying for the AP Calculus exam or retaking his driving test for the fifth time. And it’s not hard to understand why. Those topics are not sexy. They’re not interesting. No one is going to buy a ticket to a movie about a diligent high school student who takes challenging courses, gets good grades, excels in after-school activities and eventually gets admitted to the college of his choice.

But for real-life students, the storyline is very different. College-bound high school seniors are trying to do whatever they can to make themselves stand out in an increasingly competitive applicant pool. Good grades alone aren’t enough anymore; students have to study their annotated Macbeth summary for their AP English test, take photos for the yearbook, go to soccer practice and volunteer for some worthy cause if they want a chance at getting admitted to a top-tier school. It must be exhausting.

Then, of course, is that affliction known as “senioritis.” This often comes to students who have worked hard for almost four years, and then, once they’ve received their college decision letters, completely check out out of high school, sometimes to the point of failing a course or two. This can be problematic, as most colleges offer admission on a provisional basis, and make students sign a contract promising to maintain the level of academic achievement that got them offered admission in the first place, and threaten to revoke their offer of admission if they don’t.

Sometimes, of course, it’s not that serious. Maybe a 4.0 student drops down to a 3.8 for her last semester, or a local charity’s Volunteer of the Year seems to be mysteriously missing shifts after he finds out he got into his top-choice school. It’s hard to blame these kids. So many of them are told from a young age that it’s crucial that they go to college and that all the hard work they put in in high school is for the purpose of getting into college, so once they finally do get into college, who can blame them for wanting a break?

One of the lesser-known, but still incredibly poignant, To Kill a Mockingbird quotes, addresses this obsession with the future that many high-achieving high school students possess: “There are just some kind of men who – who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one.” It’s doubtful that Harper Lee had overachieving teenagers in mind when she wrote those words, but the idea that it’s just as (if not more) important to enjoy your present as it is to prepare for you future is one just about everybody should consider.