Thoughtful Parenting: Stressed-out, overwhelmed teens
Recently, I asked a teen how she really was doing that day. She sighed, looked down and mumbled, “I am so stressed out.” Sadly, she is not the exception.
One College Health survey reported that 94 percent of students chose “overwhelmed” as the word that would best describe their lives. In the most recent “Stress in America” survey by the American Psychological Association, more than 25 percent of teenagers surveyed said that they feel “extreme levels of stress” during the school year. (Even in the summer, more than 1 in 10 teenagers said that they felt extreme stress.)
They want to cry. They are exhausted but lie awake, feeling stressed. They cut themselves, hoping to relieve stress; drug and alcohol use can be fueled by a need to cope with stress. They cheat on schoolwork in an attempt to manage the good grades they expect. (One survey revealed that 95 percent of high school students cheated in order to get through school and/or to maintain high grades.) Ten percent have thought about suicide.
How do we respond? As a mom, my heart flounders with these statistics — each number reflects a young person who is struggling. And the stress with which they are dealing now is affecting their futures in significant ways. According to the APA, high levels of stress contribute to chronic stress as well as adult mental health struggles, higher rates of disease and disrupted brain development.
The problem is that most teenagers report having no idea how to handle stress or even if what they are trying to do to manage it is effective.
We can help our teenagers catch their breath.
Their parents’ behavior is what impacts teenagers the most. When we are handling our stress in healthy ways, our teenagers learn from us how to handle stress in their own lives. Whether as adults or teenagers, simple, healthy lifestyle patterns lower stress the most: healthy foods, regular exercise and enough sleep. (Teenagers need lots of sleep!)
Perhaps just as importantly, we can each take a look at the expectations we have for our children. Is their stress fueled by their desires to meet our expectations? Are we giving them freedom to pursue their own goals, to be their own individuals, to experience life the ways they are hardwired to function?
Sometimes our teens are most stressed out as they struggle to do what they think their parents want them to do. Maybe today is a good day to sit down with a teenager and a cup of hot chocolate and ask how stressed he is feeling, whether she feels that her schedule is manageable, what types of coping he is using to handle stress and whether he is overwhelmed by trying to meet his parents’ expectations.
Let’s take a collective breath. In. Out. Now, let’s help our teens breathe, too.
Melinda Clark is CEO of Selah, a place just to breathe, where committed staff and caring advocates invest in the whole-person health of young people, particularly in context of sexual risk avoidance, healthy relationships and pregnancy. Clark is a member of the Routt County Youth Services Coalition, whose website can be found at http://www.youthinroutt.org.