If American teenagers could collectively sum up how they feel about life and school, they might say, "Meh."
U.S. teens rank around average for life satisfaction and academic achievement, according to a new international survey. But students in this country, more than their foreign counterparts, feel compelled to compete and are anxious about schoolwork and testing.
A larger-than-average percentage of American students also feel like outsiders at school.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has given an academic test every three years since 2000 to a sample of 15-year-olds in 72 countries. This time, following the 2015 test, the Program for International Student Assessment, the organization examined the social and emotional state of students using their answers to an accompanying survey.
The top five countries, the ones where the most students report being "very satisfied" or "satisfied," are the Netherlands, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Finland and Costa Rica. The bottom five are Macao, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Turkey. The United States is almost exactly in the middle; about 70 percent of American students reported satisfaction.
Countries don't have to sacrifice kids' happiness to boost their academic achievement, said Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's director for education and skills. The Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland and Estonia do consistently well on tests, and their students say they feel good about their lives.
Four factors largely predict high student well-being: lots of teacher support, lots of parental support, socializing with friends outside school and higher levels of physical activity.
"You'd be surprised how strong teacher-related factors relate to satisfaction," Schleicher said.
On the flip side, anxiety about schoolwork, feeling like an outsider, excessive internet use and teachers' perceived unfairness were strong predictors of dissatisfaction.
American kids who reported that they feel like outsiders -- 24 percent, compared with a global average of 17 percent -- were three times more likely to be dissatisfied with their lives.
But those who say their teachers support them, meaning adapting lessons to their classes and giving individual help when needed, were twice as likely to report a sense of belonging.
A higher proportion of students worldwide in 2015 said they feel like they don't belong -- including that they feel awkward, have trouble making friends, and are lonely at school -- than students did in 2012 and 2003.
The report found a link between excessive Internet use (more than six hours a day outside school) and decreased life satisfaction. Those teens were more likely to report being lonely at school, excluded by other students, tardy and opposed to continuing their education after high school.
U.S. students tend to fret more than others over schoolwork; nearly 70 percent, for example, said, "Even if I am well-prepared for a test, I feel very anxious."
"What is so interesting in these data is we find actually no relationship between the frequency of tests and anxiety (about) tests," Schleicher said. The Netherlands, where students are relatively laid-back, administers more exams than the U.S., which actually tests its students "moderately," he said.
One thing that did seem to be linked is that in countries such as the United States where students are motivated by competition and external factors, such as getting into a good college, the students were much more likely to be anxious. Countries where doing well is its own reward, called intrinsic motivation, had pretty relaxed teens.
Parents aren't off the hook. The OECD didn't survey parents in the U.S., but in other countries, the group found that kids whose parents spend time talking to them and eating dinner with them at a table are more likely to report satisfaction, an increased likelihood of 60 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
The American Federation of Teachers used the findings to argue that the Trump administration has its priorities skewed.
"Countries and schools that do well fight the fixation on testing, focusing instead on children's joy in and out of the classroom," said a statement from union President Randi Weingarten.
"This data debunks President Trump's proposed federal funding cuts for programs like child nutrition, wraparound services in schools, school climate, and before- and after-school programs, and reaffirms why these programs have been funded for decades."