August 2017

Young People Stressed by the Pressure of Choices, Society, and High Expectations

By: Rebecca Nielsen
Projects Abroad Volunteer

I am a girl from Denmark spending a month in Bolivia during my trip in South America. I have many friends in Denmark who do not know what to study and what they want in their futures. When I came here I met some people from Cochabamba around my age, and they were in the same position as me: they did not know what to choose and found it frustrating as young adults.

Design by: Ximena Noya

In the old days, young people were predestined by society and cultural heritage. Almost everything was predetermined for young people; children frequently took over their parents' businesses and virtually no one was a "pattern breaker" by doing something completely different. Today, in the late modern era, it is nearly the opposite.

Every person is the master of his own destiny and makes his own decisions. Of course, some people still do the same as their parents did, like taking the same educational path or taking over a company, or social legacy, but in the present, we have social mobility and we have more freedom to do what we want. Or do we? A group of young people between 19-21 years old recently took a survey in Cochabamba, Bolivia and in Denmark answering the same questions about their future and the decisions they had to make. When asked if they "felt free to do whatever they wanted," the answers were surprisingly similar. As a matter of comparison, I have taken some responses from surveys in both places. They are as follows:

The answers from people in Cochabamba:

"I do not feel free the whole time because there are some standards about my career." "I know I am free to do what I want, but the problem is that we have to think about the future and what is the best to do."

The answers from people in Denmark:

"I do not feel I am completely free to do what I want. But within what I am good at, I know that through development I can achieve a level of competence that could result in a possible dream job."

"I do not feel very free. I am not trapped, but I feel that my future is somewhat predetermined, maybe because I am looking for a stable life, like many others.

"No, I do not feel completely free. I have some moral duties I must live up to. I do many things because they are necessary, practical, or important decisions for my future."

So, the question is, why are we not feeling fully free? It could be because of pressure from friends, family, or society. The pressure can affect people so that they do not feel free to do and choose what they want. When asked which forces they felt pressure from, once again the answers from Danish and Cochabambino youth.

Young people in Denmark:

"I feel a little pressure from my friends. I think especially young people have some weird competition going on. It makes me really uncomfortable that we compare ourselves with each other."

"I feel pressure from the government, In Denmark, we have limited options in education and that makes it more difficult to choose what I want."

"I clearly feel pressure from my family; they expect a lot of me as I expect a lot of myself. However, it is also from my own ambitions."

Young people in Denmark:

"I feel pressure from my parents because they are trying to get me out fast so I don't waste time."

"I feel enough pressure to make my head explode. The pressure comes from my brother who wants me to study the same career that he has and my parents that support him."," I clearly feel a pressure from my family; they expect a lot of me as I expect a lot of myself."

In today's society, young people are asked to take greater responsibility for their own lives, choose the right education immediately and concentrate on improving their skills. Many young people are answering this challenge skillfully, but those with fewer resources are frequently caught up in the pressure to meet high expectations.

"It makes me really uncomfortable that we compare ourselves with each other."

Young people do have opportunities to do some things that are difficult for older people.

For example, taking a sabbatical – a year or two - where to travel for a long time or enjoy your life with friends, find out what you want to study and what to do with your life. Unfortunately, many young people get stressed and do not make wise choices because of pressure from various areas of their lives.

The consequence is that many young people do not feel free to figure out what they want to study or do. When asked if they felt free and able to decide what to study, the answers from Danish and Cochabambino youth were once again similar.

Answers from Denmark:

"I have no idea at all about what I want. I think it's an incredibly difficult, and I feel neither fit for taking such a crucial choice".

"I personally cannot cope with constantly consider the correctness of my choice, and might sometimes wish that more things were fixed and not left to me to decide."

Answers from Cochabamba:

"I neither know what to study nor what field to work in." If the answers from the Cochabambinos and Danes are any indication, young people from all over the world find it frustrating to choose what they want and even more frustrated if they have to make a fast decision. In today's society, young individuals have many things to consider and many crucial choices to make. Many other pressures also can play a role in the inability of young people to feel free about the choices that they make. When asked what other factors played a role in the pressure young people feel about their decision making, the responses were as follows:

In the present, we have social mobility and we have more freedom to do what we want. Or do we?
Design by Ximena Noya


"I think (the social media) affects everyone, but especially youth. I think we no longer only reflect about ourselves in the physical relationships, but also very much in the virtual world."


"Of course, young people are influenced easily by advertising in social media" – "Social media has too much influence in to young people's choices".

Young people from all over the world find it frustrating to choose what they want

It is, of course, not everyone who is affected by the social media, but the vast majority are either directly or indirectly influenced by it. Social media has become an important part of young people's everyday lives; it affect their habits, language, relationships and future opportunities and play a crucial role in the development of young people's identity. Another obstacle is financial resources. In Denmark and many other places in Europe, there is a welfare state, which provides public university for free. In Cochabamba, the private universities are expensive, but people can go to the public universities for free. The decision can be significantly more difficult in Bolivia as the course of study, quality of education, and financial costs all play a role in the decisions young people make about their course of study. Despite the pressures from various quarters, young people are managing to find their way. Perhaps young people are just being forced to look reality in the face with the new pressures of modern society. We need to deal with the pressure and the stress because it does not get any easier as we get older, it only gets harder. So now it is the time to learn how to do deal with the stress of choices about our lives. The future awaits.

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