Teen stress levels are now believed to be worse than those of adults. Per the American Psychological Association, “Teens reported that their stress levels during the school year far exceeded what they believe to be healthy (5.8 vs. 3.9 on a 10-point scale) and topped adults’ average reported stress levels (5.8 for teens vs. 5.1 for adults).” Why are today’s teens dealing with so much anxiety? And what are the best ways for helping students deal with stress?
What’s Behind the Stress
Traditional causes for teenage stress may have been feelings of being off track, but today, kids portraying the most significant signs of stress are those trying to get into college.
Mary Naimie, LCSW, CHt is a psychotherapist who’s developed an entire practice around helping high achieving teens cope with the pressures they’re facing. She tells Parentology,” I began seeing kids with adult stress symptoms like insomnia, chest pains, anxiety symptoms, panic attacks.”
Naimie says it’s not just kids that are high academic achievers who suffer, all teens can be at risk. “[It can be] Any kid on the college acceptance path, checking what I call ‘the boxes’ to be not just college eligible, but college attractive.” For a lot of teens this is a rigorous academic schedule, combined with extracurricular activities and volunteer work.
Naime believes a type of “group hysteria” has led kids and parents to believe there’s a finite number of colleges and only one path to acceptance.
“It’s a sense of panic [akin to feeling] you can’t take your foot off the pedal, you have to be doing all of this—and that’s not true,” Naimie says.
There are approximately 5,800 colleges and universities in the US alone. These institutions have varying requirements for admission. With all of these options, there are many choices for all kinds of students.
While some kids have the coping and stress management skills to handle the rigorous academic and extracurricular demands of going full speed, many don’t.
“It can all be dialed down,” Naimie says. “Five degrees is the difference between surviving from break to break.” She gives examples like taking one less AP class or opting out of a school sports season to alleviate unneeded stress. These small changes allow teens to achieve balance and still be a desirable college candidate.
Parents should check in with their children on a regular basis, assessing how they’re felling and ensuring they’re not getting caught up in the chaos of keeping up. They should also try to help their kids understand the bigger picture and make sure they know it’s okay to pivot or change course.
Naimie suggests both children and parents “Let go of the fear” and that college acceptance is only one stop on the path to success. She reassures, “There are multiple pathways to becoming a successful adult.”
Helping Students Deal with Stress — Sources
American Psychological Association
Mary Naimie, LCSW, CHt