How many times have you expressed the impossible desire to be young again, free from the worries of the adult world? The days of care-free living are often associated in our minds with our teenage years. The reality is that teens experience stress as often, and with the same level of intensity, as adults. Adults often lose sight of the fact that our reactions to the world around us, and the types of stressors we experience, are different at different times in our lives. Even though you may think you would much rather deal with a difficult math class than a difficult boss, stressful reactions to each can be similar. Hopefully, as an adult, you’ve learned coping mechanisms and strategies for overcoming the difficulties and situations that lead to stress. You have an advantage in that regard when compared to your teenage son or daughter. In his or her case, a less than fully-developed frontal lobe deprives them of the ability to plan, analyze, and control their impulses as proficiently as you. In addition, teens often experience more fear and anxiety than adults, but with an underdeveloped sense of how to overcome them.
Teens deal with some of the same stressors that affect their parents – financial issues, conflicts within the family, lack of sleep, etc. There are others however, that are especially difficult for the over-sensitive teen. They may have a difficult time fitting in and finding friends with common interests. The academic requirements associated with high school can be overwhelming. The homework load, reading requirements, and number of quizzes and tests per week can be mind-boggling. Falling behind because of an inability to keep pace can be disastrous. Not only does the student’s level of stress and anxiety rise with falling grades, but the pressures applied by parents increase with their own growing frustrations.
All too commonly today, teens rush to distractions to take their minds off of the stressors. Their faces become more affixed to screens. Their cell phones, tablets, and laptops are gateways to mind-numbing video games and inappropriate websites and blogs. The addictive nature of social media can steal their attention and distract them from concentrated intellectual effort. The latest early teen fad, vaping, seems to be a cool way to find commonality with others their age. Unfortunately, vaping devices yield higher concentrations of nicotine per draw than cigarettes and can be more addictive. Nicotine pods or cartridges can easily be switched out for cannabis oil or synthetic marijuana in some vaping products.
On the Rise
For those of us involved in education, we could previously, quite legitimately, claim that the percent of all adolescent students that experienced the above issues was very small. The number is still in the minority, but most parents would be shocked to see how the percentages have surged in recent years. Ask your school counselor if teen stress and anxiety is higher than they have ever experienced. Ask the Assistant Principal in charge of discipline if instances of vaping, and students in possession of vaping devices (even at the middle school level), has increased. If they are honest, they won’t say that it has gone up some, they will tell you it is exploding. Ask that same school administrator if teachers are confiscating more cell phones in class than ever before. Some students are so addicted to their social media communications that they literally can’t wait until after class to check them.
Long-term solutions to overcoming the effects of teenage stress begin with the active involvement of the parents. In our next post, we will suggest a parental roadmap to success in this important area. Stay tuned for our next installment, Teenage Stress, Part 2!