Student 1: “How late were you up last night?”

Student 2: “Oh about 12, how about you?”

Student 1: “You’re so lucky, I am so tired! I had piano after school and then play rehearsal. So I didn’t get home until 9. Then I had to eat and shower so I didn’t start homework until about 10:30. So I didn’t finish my homework until like 2 in the morning. Then I had to get up at 6 so I could write that essay for history. It was awful!”

Student 2: “Oh wow that sounds bad.”

With conversations like these occurring regularly among students at my college prep high school, it was as if everyone was walking around wearing one of those Girl Scout sashes, trying to collect as many misery badges as they could. You get one for having the worst teacher. One for taking the most difficult classes. One for doing the most things outside of school (doesn’t really matter if you like them or not). One for waking-up the earliest. One for going to bed the latest. Also there is one for procrastinating the most, and pulling a good grade out of a last-minute effort.

This is not ok and it fosters a desire pursue unhappiness. It makes it “uncool” to enjoy a class. To like a teacher. To do more work than you have to. Even worse, students who actually are managing their time and going to bed at a reasonable hour often go to great lengths to lie to prove to others that they are “working hard” as well. Because how hard can you really be pushing yourself if you go to bed before 12 every night?

I am one of the students who didn’t try to earn these badges. And I began to feel like I might be doing it all wrong. Of course I had late nights, some bad teachers, and didn’t love school all the time, but people acted like I was weird that I wasn’t interested in competing with them to be the most unhappy.

In school, stress and misery are being equated with hard work and achievement. Often, teachers get all the blame for the stressed-out state of their students. But the truth is they are only part of the problem. This idea is promoted by both students and teachers. Teachers give their students more and more work even though days aren’t getting any longer. And students compete with each other, seemingly getting rewarded by schools for their exhaustion. This problem will only be addressed by changing the communication between students, as well as between students and teachers.

Instead of bragging about their late nights, students should communicate with teachers about the work- load. Instead of seeing who can cram the most work into the least amount of time, students should be taught time-management skills. Students shouldn’t feel like they have to lie to get credit for working hard. Fostering better communication between all parties can help improve the existing climate that is the result of misguided encouragement.

Exercises and activities to help improve this communication can be found on this website. Some great ones to look at are “Connected and Supported” and “Contented and Balanced.” With the help of both teachers and students, this culture of unhappiness at school can be dissolved and replaced with a culture of balance, honesty and inspiration.

Riley Gantt is a high school junior in California and the founder of Rainbow Pack and Just Start the Conversation. In the 5th grade, after learning that many students were falling behind and often dropping out of school due to a lack of the most basic school supplies, Riley started Rainbow Pack. Rainbow Pack provides new backpacks full of grade appropriate homework supplies to elementary school students in need in the Los Angeles area. After growing Rainbow Pack and speaking about her organization for 5 years Riley recognized another need. The need for people of all ages to be inspired to share their ideas and take that first step to make the world a better place. So she started Just Start The Conversation, a platform that encourages people to talk about and act on the things they care about with the goal of creating positive change or action.