x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

'My school is filled with hyperactive teenagers who are agonisingly wonderful at everything'

The "growing up" videos we watched in school were right: being a teenager is, in many ways, harder today than it was in, say, the Middle Ages.

The pressure on teenagers to be successful at school is seemingly ever-growing.
The pressure on teenagers to be successful at school is seemingly ever-growing.

The "growing up" videos we watched in school were right: being a teenager is, in many ways, harder today than it was in, say, the Middle Ages. And I'm not just talking about the peer pressure to do crazy things in order to fit in. It's immensely annoying how many extra-curricular activities you have to do today to justify the statement on your university application: "X has a wide range of interests." My school is filled with hyperactive teenagers who are agonisingly wonderful at everything.

Naomi rides horses, is part of the senior flute choir, is practising for her grade seven piano exam, and is in top sets for almost every subject. I overheard her frantically moaning to someone about how she would probably fail the music practical test. The someone, who aims to have her diploma on the recorder by next year, nodded vehemently and countered that Naomi couldn't possibly do worse than her.

"Geniuses," I muttered to myself, shaking my head. "Actually, it is genii," Naomi called to me over her shoulder, "but everyone says it wrong these days." I stared at her. "Genii." I suspect she began to give me an approving nod before quickly changing it into a cold stare when she realised I wasn't complimenting her. Naomi is not a solitary example. There was a time, perhaps no easier, when every teenager belonged to a clique: the sporty people, the arty people, the popular group, the nerds and the geeks. And there were always those who weren't particularly talented at anything, thus not spending their lunch break sticking bits of newspaper on balloons, scoring tries or sculpting statues of headless fat men carrying mallets. (Yes, this tasteful masterpiece, made by an art student, actually welcomes - and slightly disconcerts - anyone who enters the auditorium.)

I doubt there's a single person left in school who belongs to that last category - the one with the free lunch period, I mean. If the pressure to succeed doesn't cause today's teenagers to sign up for as many clubs, teams and ensembles as they can, the threat of suffering the humiliation of not knowing which part of a saxophone is called the ligature while engaging in light conversation will. Oh, the agony.

Now all the different cliques have blended into one big mass of super efficient all-rounders who are disappointed if their maths test is returned with only a "98%, well done" scribbled on it. (Of course, so stupid, I missed a whole two per cent.) Not so long ago, as children, we would let out an enormous collective groan when a teacher mentioned homework. We had to make them realise that perhaps it was best to postpone homework for another night. We would try cute, puppy-eyed wheedling accompanied by, of course, plenty of spit-wad shooting, screaming about how unfair it was and finally the threat that it would probably stunt our growth. In an extreme case we would even start a petition. We had learnt well from the slogan used for charity collections: together, we can make a difference. We did make a difference in those glorious days - we often managed to get homework off our evening agendas.

Sadly, these bright sparks of primary school have grown into organised teenagers who diligently write everything down in their homework planner without a murmur. Call me behind the times, but I'm proud to have retained the ancient tradition of using diaries only as a source of paper for passing notes when the teacher gets a little dull. In an English lesson last week, we were given a "speaking task" in which we had to speak to the class about something we were good at or an experience we had had. Everyone jotted down every activity they had ever done and any educational trips they had been on. The average list size spanned about two pages. Or perhaps I should say "the mean list length": a classmate would probably point out that "average" is too broad a term.

Lauren's talk about gymnastics revealed that she'd been in her country's national team. Someone else swam everyday. Another had been doing ballet since she was three. No pressure on the rest of us then. Some of my classmates tried swinging the gymnastics clubs that Lauren had brought in. I was politely refused this opportunity because "knowing you, you'll probably manage to knock someone out or smash the Smart Board". I like the confidence they have in me. Well, they can keep their gymnastics clubs and other lethal weapons to themselves. I choose to remain a beacon of hope for those less interested in becoming geniuses at such a young age, which will probably stunt growth. Genii, I mean.

Lavanya Malhotra is a 14-year-old student in Dubai.