Students should not be forced to play sports
December 20, 2019
In government funded schools, students are required to complete a certain amount of P.E. credits in order to graduate, which can be attained through P.E. classes, athletics or other school activities such as JROTC. This policy was put in place in order to promote physical activity and lower obesity rates in teenagers, and it has proven to be effective in doing so. Although physical activity is important in order to maintain health and this policy has made a positive impact on the lives of many students, not all students have benefitted from it. To students who deal with another personal challenge like an anxiety disorder, these mandated credits could affect their ability to graduate or possibly worsen their disorders and thus their ability to live fulfilling lives. This is especially true for students with social anxiety disorder.
Social anxiety disorder is a disorder in which a person experiences an intense phobia of social interactions for fear of judgement, failure, embarrassment, negative evaluation, or rejection from others. Sufferers may also experience the fear of appearing visibly anxious, which makes their anxiety worse. Individuals may develop social anxiety over time, inherit the disorder, or may have the disorder because part of their brain called the amygdala is overactive, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for the perception of emotions like fear. In this case, an overactive amygdala will cause a disproportionate amount of fear in social situations. The severity of social anxiety varies in each person.
Fear can range from only a fear of speaking and preforming in public to intense fear whenever around other people. Severe social anxiety can result in extreme fear of social situations such as walking, writing and eating in front of others, getting up to throw away an apple core when in a room full of people, or using a public restroom. Social anxiety sufferers many times fall victim to depression, isolation and substance abuse and addiction.
Students with social anxiety may not attend school for long periods of time, skip school, get kicked out of classes on purpose, or drop out of high school all because of anxiety. Social anxiety can affect teens in college as well, as many students reported dropping out before they could graduate because of anxiety. Twenty percent of adults with social anxiety report declining a job offer or promotion because of fear of social interaction in the workplace. Social anxiety prevents those who have it from leading productive, fulfilling lives because it limits the opportunities one allows themselves to take.
Symptoms of social anxiety include blushing, fast heartbeat, trembling or shaking, sweating, stomach aches or nausea, dizziness or lightheadedness, muscle tension, stuttering, anxiety or panic attacks, crying, confusion, and dry throat and mouth. Treating the disorder and its symptoms are usually done in one of two ways: medication and exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is important for long term stability as it helps the individual prove to themselves that their fears are irrational so they can live normal lives. This form of therapy begins when the individual is ready. The process is gradual and at the pace and comfortability of that individual.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 25% of teens ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder, and 6% of those teens suffer from a severe one. This means that one out of four teens are struggling with an anxiety disorder that is negatively impacting their lives. Given the startling statistics, it is clear that schools and administrative staff need to take the mental health of students into consideration when implementing policies. Being forced into P.E. classes or sports where they are forced to perform in front of others may cause students with social anxiety to avoid attending class or tryouts because of fear of judgement or rejection, and therefore they would not be allowed to graduate. This is not to say that students with this disorder should be completely exempt from athletic activity, however. Exposure to feared social situations is important, but exposure should be gradual and increased over time.
Taking all of this into account, students should not be required to partake in P.E. or sports in order to graduate. Many times, students are forced into stressful situations in which they are told to “suck it up” and the mental health of students is overlooked, which forces them to deal with mental and emotional struggles alone. These struggles can disrupt a student’s life and ability to get an education. Therefore, schools should implement mental health training for teachers, so they are able to recognize these behaviors and get students the professional help they need. Schools should also implement programs to help support students with social anxiety and other anxieties in a healthy way that will be beneficial for them in the future.
Our schools should continue to encourage students to participate in sports and athletic activity but also encourage students to ask for help when dealing with emotional or mental obstacles that are preventing them from living everyday life comfortably, instead of forcing them into activities that are extremely stressful to handle. In the future, school boards and administrators need to consider the growing mental health epidemic in teenage students and put programs and resources in place to address these problems and help students cope with them in a healthy way.