In Teenage Stress, Part 1, we discussed the causes and possible results of adolescent stress.  According to the Challenge Success Program at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, the type of teenage stress they see the most is school-related.  The transition to high school can be especially difficult with heavy workloads and frequent tests.  These teens don’t get enough sleep; some turn to cheating, social media and gaming, alcohol, nicotine, and drugs.  A significant number develop anxiety and depression.

Challenge Success

Middle School

  • 9- to 13-year-olds said they were more stressed by academics than any other stressor—even bullying or family problems (36% said they were stressed out the most by grades, school, and homework; 32% said family; 21% said friends, peers, gossip and teasing).
  • 90% of middle school students admitted to cheating at least once in school.
  • Project-based learning methods may help to decrease the gap in achievement between female and male middle school students.

High School

  • 73% of students listed academic stress as their number one reason for using drugs, yet only 7% of parents believe teens might use drugs to deal with stress.
  • High-achieving private and public high school students average 3.07 hours of homework each night.
  • High school athletes have 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospital visits annually.

Two-Step Approach

The Challenge Success Program recommends a two-step approach to overcoming school-induced (and other) teenage stress.  Remember that teenagers are at a disadvantage when it comes to planning and proper judgment due to a less than fully developed prefrontal cortex.  They need parental guidance to establish the daily habits that overcome stressors.  Those habits fall into two major categories: a balanced lifestyle and the development of executive functioning skills.

Balanced Lifestyle

US News My research with colleagues at Challenge Success, a research and intervention project based at Stanford University, has found that sleep deprivation is particularly acute at some schools. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adolescents get eight to 10 hours of sleep each night. However, high school students in our sample, drawn from dozens of high-performing schools from across the country, report an average of 6.8 hours, with the averages in some schools falling as low as six hours during week nights. Furthermore, well over half of the students in our studies report experiencing frequent exhaustion or difficulty falling asleep due to stress. Other studies of nationally representative samples of high school students find that fewer than 10 percent obtain 9 or more hours of sleep a night, the guideline recommended for teens by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The constant pinging of their smart phones doesn’t help.  For many teens, elements of a balanced lifestyle disappear from their lives.  They are not able to manage their time well enough to get sufficient sleep; or to stay involved in church, or clubs, or family activities.

HUFFPOST– Not all adolescents are equally affected by stress. Genetic and personality risk factors make some adolescents more vulnerable than others to stress and its negative consequences. 

However, all youth can benefit from measures that can help to reduce and contain stress. There is much to gain, and little to lose from taking measures to try to keep adolescent stress in check. 

Getting regular (but not excessive) exercise, limiting caffeine, eliminating nicotine consumption, getting nine hours of sleep with sleep schedules as regular as possible, taking time out for safe, fun activities, and practicing meditation, yoga or other mindfulness-based techniques are all positive ways for teens to cope with stress.

Parents or guardians can play an important role also.  Although teens may not always seem immediately receptive to parental efforts, expressions of warmth, support, and love remain key stress-buffering measures throughout the adolescent years.

The Challenge Success Program would also say that parents need to take an active role in their teens’ lives to provide the kind of structural balance that can lead to stress reduction.

Study Skills

Besides coming up short in the areas of planning and judgment, many teens also have under-developed abilities to set and accomplish goals; manage their time; exercise self-control; develop working memory; read and understand complex ideas; and enlarge their attention span.  This is where the second recommendation for stress reduction comes in.  It is the development of executive functioning skills, known to most people as study skills.  As teens learn and practice these strategies, they overcome stressors associated with high homework loads, lack of organization, poor time management, and procrastination.  The best courses in study skills development involve interactions with others as students explain how they can utilize strategies and techniques in their class and homework experiences.  If we combine the above recommendations, parents would involve themselves in a much more intimate way in their teens’ lives, including spending time working with them on their study skills.  The result?  Families are closer; teenage stress is reduced; and grades improve.  What a hat trick!