Teens’ Stress Looks Like Adults

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

On a recent busy day, a teenage girl had to study for a science exam, turn in a major social studies project, and finish reading a novel in English. In addition, she had two hours of dance team practice, served as a mediator between two of her friends who had been fighting online, and completing her chores at home. She skipped lunch and barely had dinner as there was so much to do. The girl snacked and continued to work on homework and use social media to connect with friends until well after midnight. She then rolled out of bed the next morning at 5:45am to start it all over again.

Being busy is a mark of pride for many as it indicates being productive or needed. However, the downside of being overscheduled and pulled in too many directions is stress. Stress in measured amounts can be good for people. It provides motivation and focus for completing tasks and ensures that people are able to perform at an optimal level.

Of course, this is not what is commonly thought of when talking about stress. Most people think of stress as a destructive force that degrades performance and overwhelms a person’s efforts. This is what happens when stress becomes more than what a person can cope with effectively.

The American Psychological Association recently released a report on teenage stress, and it indicated that teens are mirroring adults in regards to the amount of stress they feel. This includes teens feeling stress during the school year that far exceeds what they believe to be a healthy level. Around half of teens reported that managing their time and balancing all of their activities is a significant stressor and as a result, they neglect responsibilities at home, work, or school. Another impact of stress on teens is a quarter of teens mentioned snapping at or being short with classmates and procrastinating on completing tasks. Some even cancelled social plans with friends and family despite finding these outings to be enjoyable.

Although stress appears to be having negative impacts on teens, they do not seem to realize the toll it is taking on their physical and mental health. In the past month, a third of teens reported being irritable, anxious, and being on the verge of crying due to stress. They also indicated being depressed, fatigued and having difficulties falling asleep at night because of stress. Despite stress being a constant presence in many teens’ lives and having a negative impact on their well-being, almost half reported not knowing what to do to manage their stress.

Parents should pay attention to stress related behaviors that their teen is exhibiting as many teens are experiencing the negative effects of stress. If excessive stress is suspected, parents should talk to their teenager about what stressors she is feeling. Often, acknowledging a problem can go a long way towards finding a solution. Parents can relate to their teen their experiences with stress and how they have effectively coped with it in the past. Parents are often a good model for effectively coping with stress as they have had more life experience in dealing with it. Opening up a conversation with your teen and sharing your ways of coping with stress can make everyone’s lives better.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on March 2, 2014.

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