It used to be easier to be a kid. And although teens will push back on the idea, they are in fact still kids. They’re just kids trying to learn and prepare themselves for adulthood. The teen years have always been, and always will be, fraught with the challenges of transition, but today’s teens have more to contend with than ever before.
Teen stress has been on the rise for years. Today the stress teenagers feel is on par with that of adults. It’s not just do you have a date to the prom or deciding which college you will attend – stressors for teens are now found in all aspects of their lives, and their young minds can have a hard time dealing with them.
So what it is that is causing such angst for today’s youth (other than surging hormones)? There are a number of things.
School and Academic Pressure
Most of us remember high school. And for most of us getting good grades was something to strive toward. It may have been easier for some than others, or easier in certain classes, but if we got straight As we knew we were doing well and likely to get into a good college. Not anymore.Straight As are no longer the strongest mark of academic achievement. Now, in order to really compete for slots at many of the best schools you need better than a 4.0 and you need demonstrated community involvement and well-rounded extracurricular activities. Weighted scores from AP classes and changing requirements for graduation, not mention the continual changes to class curriculums can cause making the grades to lead to a lot of stress. In addition, many kids are doing what once would have been considered college level work. And while that sounds okay (kind of) what it means is that teenagers are being asked to balance hours of challenging homework with sports, volunteering, family and social time. For many there are just not enough hours in the day and the fact that there is no possible way to do everything and do it as well as expected leads to high levels of stress and anxiety.
This isn’t a new one, there are just many new ways it’s experienced. Teens have always faced pressures to fit in, be popular, make sexual decisions, and try to exercise good judgment. These days, however, the presence of social media has made those things significantly more complicated.Kids are now glued to their devices with nearly all of them having some type of online profile. This means being available to be seen and interact with others and be judged 24-hours a day - there is no downtime or reprieve. Trying to ensure that your profile is “liked” by many is today’s measure of popularity. Add to that the phenomenon of sexting and the potential for cyber bullying, and you have created a whole new anxiety and stress inducing dimension for teenager.
Because of social media and the 24-hour news cycle today’s teenagers are more aware than ever of what is going on in the world. That isn’t necessarily a good thing. Whether it is the threat of a nuclear North Korea, sexual misconduct of, well, everyone, or the increasing alarm over climate change, there is a lot for everyone to feel stressed about. Teenagers, although on the verge of adulthood, are not developmentally well equipped from a developmental and psychological standpoint to know what to do with this information. It can feel very overwhelming and make an already chaotic world seem downright scary.
Today’s families come in many forms. But blended, single parent, or divorced families are more common than ever. Acceptance for all forms of love and family configurations has increased, but that doesn’t take away the psychological damage it does when parents split and potentially remarry. The stress a child at any age can feel from these occurrences is undeniable. When it comes to teenagers they have the added pressure of being expected to be mature enough to handle things and see the logic behind an adult’s explanation of the circumstances. Emotions don’t always follow logic, however, and when it comes down to it teenagers are still children. Handling family strife and major changes is as difficult for them as it is for a 7-year-old.
How Can You Tell if Your Teen is More Stressed Than Normal?
There are many signs that can point to undue stress in a teen. Unfortunately, many of them mimic normal teen behavior. Asking if your teen is moody is like asking if your dog wants a bone. There are, however, some signs that stress and anxiety have become overwhelming. If you see any of the following, or if they are getting worse, you may need to consider getting some help.
- Constant worry about things out of their control or beyond their individual life.
- Withdrawal from friends, family and normal social situations.
- Fear of making mistakes or failing in any way.
- Worry about the future.
- Behavioral changes such as anger outbursts, frequent crying, or clinginess to parents or loved ones.
- Physical symptoms like change in appetite, unexpected weight gain or loss, sleep problems, headaches or stomach aches that are frequent and have no other cause.
Symptoms of stress can vary from teen to teen, so knowing what is normal behavior for your child and noticing any changes from that is important.
What You Can Do to Help Your Teen Handle Stress
Most teens are ill equipped to handle high stress levels. They simply haven’t developed the coping mechanisms necessary for dealing with stress effectively. As a parent, grandparent, or any other adult who loves and cares for a teen, teaching them these skills and helping to reduce the stress whenever possible is crucial.
One of the biggest things you can do for your teen is to make sure they know that you love and accept them no matter what their grades are, what their social challenges are, or what is going on in the family. The security of love and acceptance that a parent provides for a child is crucial at any age and will help keep them from feeling too isolated.
You can also ensure that they understand the importance of healthy eating routines, sleep habits, and regular exercise. Sleep especially in the teen years is an important factor in regulating stress. And it’s something that many teens often forgo as they try to accomplish everything on their plates.
Most of us can’t completely get away from stress. As adults it’s just part of life. Many of us find ways to manage it and hopefully don’t allow it to affect our health and happiness. For teens, however, stress can feel like a monster that has taken over their life and is preventing them from feeling happy. If you have a teen in your life that is struggling to manage stress and your efforts haven’t worked, please consider seeing a counselor. It can be much easier to deal with things and learn new coping mechanisms when you allow an expert to help.