Thursday, January 7, 2016

Stress and Teens

The Boston Globe recently had an article on the importance of having a curriculum in schools to help kids with their emotional and social growth. 

I think that this not only important for schools to teach but for parents to teach their kids, especially if they have teens. The article mentioned that out of the almost 1400 students at Reading High school, 55 of them have been hospitalized for depression and/or anxiety. Breaking that statistic down, that means that one out of every 24 students is suffering from depression and anxiety. I wish I could say that this statistic shocked me. But it doesn't. Being a teen is no picnic these days. There are stressors that never existed before in the stage of adolescence. For example the quantifying of popularity, the pressure of having to determine their future long before they are ready and should have to, and in a way I know my generation did not feel they had to. I feel such gratitude for having the freedom and time to figure out who I was and what I wanted to. No one cared "what my major" was going to be at 17, or at 21 for that matter. As long as I could support myself I was free to do and be whatever I wanted. Of course I could rent a great apartment for $150 a month, buy a car for $1500 and fill it to the brim with gas for $3.00. And I could live on a yearly salary of $7000 and still go on a trip to a club Med. OK, that was 1975. But boy have times changed, and with these changes come higher expectations and pressure. With crushing student debt and college causing many families great financial sacrifice, students feel a need to make important life decisions before they are ready to.

Teens lives are filled with stress and drama. DUH!!!! But as a teen, you don't know yet that much of this will play itself out in a normal way. As an adult when you experience a crisis, you may have the same powerful feelings; anger, depression, anxiety, frustration, but you have years of life experience to know that in the end you will get through it. Your teens, not so much. Your teen's brain allows him/her to feel the feelings times a hundred, but their frontal cortex doesn't let them know that they can and will get through it, not to mention this may literally the first time in their life that they are dealing with with particular events and scenarios that create these kinds of strong emotional reactions. I remember when my first real love broke up with me at age 17, I literally thought I would die. I couldn't imagine that the feelings of loss that I was experiencing would ever go away. Thank god, I had great friends, a great family, and I hung in there. Your teens needs to know that you get that the depression or anxiety or anger that they are feeling is powerful. You also need to help them develop coping mechanisms for dealing, and an understanding that the intensity of these feelings comes from a teenage brain, that is built to magnify these feelings. That damn emotional center of the brain is in overdrive in adolescence.

Below is a list of stressors that a group of high school students cited as causing them the most stress. It would be really interesting if you asked your teen what things on this list caused them to stress. You might find out some information you didn't know. Teens are not always good at articulating what's bothering them, especially boys. Asking them to tell you what's wrong when you see a long face, or when you get a snarky response to a simple question almost always is answered with a loud "NOTHING JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!" This list at least provides them with some options. You can introduce this by saying: " I just read this list of things that teens stress out about, I'm really interested to see what you think about this list and whether these are things that are hard for you too." 

Perhaps you will find out something new. Beware of falling into the parent fix-it mode. As in "wow, I didn't know that this was a problem, how about if I..., or how about if you......." Your teen will not like that, and will shut you down so fast your head will spin. Certainly respond, but with a: "Wow, you are carrying around a lot stuff, that must get really hard sometimes. I didn't realize that X was an issue. Do you want to talk about it? or can I help in any way?" And them just leave it be if they don't want to get into with you. At least now you have some new information, and every now and then you can ask them: " so how's it going with X, you mentioned a few weeks ago that it was really stressing you out? Anything I can do to help?" 

You can't always get your teen to talk but at least they'll know that you'll listen.

Here's the list:

Academic Rigors (including Homework, Tests, etc.)
Sports  (including school, town and club)
Sports Fees (including uniforms, banquet, senior gifts, etc.)
Extra-curricular Activities (including drama, chorus, clubs, etc.)
Lack of Study/Organizational Skills
Teachers who do not provide a syllabus
College - Demands of the Process and Stress of Outcomes
Body Image
Relationships (including family, friends, boyfriend, and teachers)
Health Issues  (including sports injuries) 
Financial Difficulties
Loss of Home
Part-time Jobs
Internet/Cell Phone/ 24/7 Connectedness
Family Member Illness
Elderly Relative Caretaking
Getting Driver’s License—can’t do HW or sleep in the car anymore
Parent’s (Unrealistic) Expectations

Student’s (Unrealistic) Expectations

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