– Dr. Nancy McGarrah, Ph.D., psychologist
Who is more stressed out: a parent who has to work hard to pay the bills and raise a family, or a teenager who has to go to school and learn? You may have correctly guessed the answer; still, to some it may come as a surprise.
Recent polls report that 75 percent of adults are stressed or worried about money, family troubles and problems with their boss. But there is a group even more stressed out: kids.
“You know everyone talks about stress and there is a lot of stress,” says Marcus, 16.
“Something you’re always going to have to deal with; it’s never going to go away,” says Andrew, 17.
According to a new Associated Press/MTV poll, 85 percent of teens say they feel stressed. Almost half the boys and a third of the girls say the pressure is there almost every day. Their biggest worry is school.
“Sometimes it’s going to be really stressful because you’re going to get down to the end one night and you’ve got a test the next day and a paper due but you know you have to do it,” says C.T., 17.
Experts say a little stress can energize and motivate a child, but too much has another name: anxiety. And that can be de-motivating.
“Depression and anxiety are closely related. And so you can have kids that stop wanting to be involved in things and they spend more and more time in their room and less and less time out playing, cultivating friends — those are all warning signs,” says Dr. Nancy McGarrah, Ph.D., psychologist.
Experts say parents can help by offering a careful balance of expectations.
“The most important thing is that you don’t underestimate nor do you overestimate your expectations of your child’s performance,” says Dr. Sherwood Smith, Ph.D., psychologist.
Which is no easy task for parents, he says. Still, his next advice may be a little easier.
“Let your child know that regardless of their level of success, you love and you value that child,” says Smith.
According to the poll, school and studies was ranked the number one stressor by a third of all teens. Fourteen percent said their job was number one; 11 percent said family caused the most amount of stress in their life.
Tips for Parents
- Pressure that is too intense or lasts too long, or troubles that are shouldered alone, can cause people to feel stress overload. Here are some of the things that can overwhelm the body’s ability to cope if they continue for a long time: (Nemours Foundation)
- Being bullied or exposed to violence or injury
- Relationship stress, family conflicts, or the heavy emotions that can accompany a broken heart or the death of a loved one
- Ongoing problems with schoolwork related to a learning disability or other problems, such as ADHD (usually once the problem is recognized and the person is given the right learning support the stress disappears)
- Crammed schedules, not having enough time to rest and relax, and always being on the go
- The most helpful method of dealing with stress is learning how to manage the stress that comes with any new challenge, good or bad. Stress-management skills work best when they’re used regularly, not just when the pressure’s on. (Nemours Foundation)
- Knowing how to “de-stress” and doing it when things are relatively calm can help you get through challenging circumstances that may arise. Here are some things that can help keep stress under control: (Nemours Foundation)
- Take a stand against over-scheduling. If you’re feeling stretched, consider cutting out an activity or two, opting for just the ones that are most important to you.
- Be realistic. Don’t try to be perfect — no one is. Expecting others to be perfect can add to your stress level, too (not to mention put a lot of pressure on them!) If you need help with something, such as schoolwork, ask for it.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Getting enough sleep helps keep your body and mind in top shape, making you better equipped to deal with any negative stressors. Because the biological “sleep clock” shifts during adolescence, many teens prefer staying up a little later at night and sleeping a little later in the morning. But if you stay up late and still need to get up early for school, you may not get all the hours of sleep you need.
- Learn to relax. The body’s natural antidote to stress is called the relaxation response. It’s your body’s opposite of stress, and it creates a sense of well-being and calm. The chemical benefits of the relaxation response can be activated simply by relaxing. You can help trigger the relaxation response by learning simple breathing exercises and then using them when you’re caught up in stressful situations.
- Treat your body well. Experts agree that getting regular exercise helps people manage stress. (Excessive or compulsive exercise can contribute to stress, though, so as in all things, use moderation.) Eat well to help your body get the right fuel to function at its best. It’s easy when you’re stressed out to eat on the run or eat junk food or fast food. But under stressful conditions, the body needs its vitamins and minerals more than ever.
- Nemours Foundation