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Chatham — In The Schools

Teen Stress - A New Epidemic

Susan O'Connor, MA, LPC, NCC

Sunday, March 2, 2014 • 1:10pm

Teens today are facing a very competitive and aggressive world academically, socially, athletically and emotionally. There is more pressure than ever before to succeed in all aspects of their lives. 

An article in Psychology Today even emphasized how affluent teens are more stressed and more likely to deal with substance abuse or depression than teens from lower socio-economic environments. Living in the Northeast especially, colleges have become so incredibly selective that it isn’t enough to do well on the SATs, ACTs or achieve high honors in school.

Colleges and universities are seeking students who are more “well-rounded” with various sports, community service and activities.  Students are maximizing their time trying to achieve high grades and stay involved. Relaxation or fun is very often not part of the schedule.  They are over scheduled, over committed and overwhelmed. 

Athletics is a great way for kids to be involved, active and social but it also has become very time-consuming and hyper-competitive. Kids are encouraged to often play on a variety of teams or put in many hours of practice, in addition to their school work. There are many late nights and little free time, which can increase stress.

Popularity has become a full-time job as well.  Keeping up with social events, social media and texting while trying to fit in homework and non-athletic activities leaves little downtime.  Teens are over stimulated with technology that is available 24/7.  The fear of failure and not keeping up with friends and acquaintances can be paralyzing for a teen.  They feel the need to respond to every text, Facebook post, Instagram, Snap Chat or Vine video.

There are many signs that your child is headed down this path – sleeping difficulties, excessive irritability, tantrums or crying fits, late night homework binges, changes in motivation to be involved in things, isolating oneself and changes in eating habits. 

Adults are often the ones dealing with stress and juggling responsibilities.  Society’s expectations have now caused a new younger generation to deal with it as well. Adolescents are not equipped to handle stress and don’t have the coping mechanisms necessary to manage it appropriately.  Stress can manifest itself in many ways and if it is ignored, it can lead to more serious problems. Eating disorders, substance abuse, depression, cutting, anxiety and panic attacks are all often the result of feelings of being overwhelmed, hopeless, and fear of failing.

It is important to consistently check in with your teen and see how they are feeling about their schedules and if they have enough time to accomplish all of their tasks without feeling overwhelmed. Support, encouragement and possibly restricting the activities may be necessary, if you notice signs of stress.  Although school work takes precedence, there has to be time for some fun. 

Movies, listening to music, family time and hanging out with friends are ways teens can unplug and have time for some laughs. Prioritize with your child what is important and limit the activities to one or two each marking period, based on time commitment.

Time management can be a struggle at first but if your child can organize their time on a schedule that works for them, the routine will allow for realistic expectations as well as knowledge of what each day holds and honoring the commitment they made with a full effort.  Learning to balance responsibilities and relaxation is the key to a happy and successful path into adulthood. 

If you would like more information or ways to work with your teens to reduce their stress, please email me at apositiveapproach1234@gmail.com

 

 
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