FEATURES: Stresses Continue To Build For Today’s Teens
By Renee Lynch – Staff Reporter
Megan Grabowski, a senior at Jonathan Law High School in Connecticut, is highly involved in her academics and outside of school activities.
Grabowski, is an honor student, who is looking to become a nurse, is also a captain of the high school gymnastics team and is employed, working 18-20 hours per week.
Many full-rounded students, including Grabowski, experience major stress due to the inability to balance school work, working, sports, and relationships with friends and family.
“It’s hard for me to balance my academics, when I also have a job and have other after school activities,” Grabowski said.
Teenagers in high school are also stressed due to SATs, ACTs and college applications.
“College applications were so stressful for me,” Grabowski said. “There were so many different criteria for each school, including separate personal essays, and also it was hard to have everything completed for the deadlines, when I had homework and studying to do on top of that.”
Research shows that 30 percent of teens reported feelings of sadness due to stress, 31 percent of teens felt overwhelmed due to stresses, 36 percent of teens are tired because of stress, and 23 percent have skipped meals because of stress.
On average, students reported their feelings of stress on a 5.8 out of a scale of 10.
“In order to break this cycle of stress and unhealthy behaviors as a nation, we need to provide teens with better support and health education, at school and at home, at the community level and in their interactions with healthcare professionals,” Norman B. Anderson, the APA’s chief executive and senior vice president said.
Stress seems to be getting worse for some teens, according to the survey. About 31 percent of kids said their stress level had increased in the past year, twice as many as those who said it went down, and 34 percent said they expected their stress level would rise in the coming year.
One recent study from the Stanford School Of Medicine indicates the number of children ages 7-17 doubled since 1991.
High-stakes tests, such as the TAKS in Texas and the FCAT in Florida, are particularly stressful, for students and teachers because students in certain grades must pass these tests to advance to the next grade. In Florida, children as young as 8 years old face the prospect of being held back if they fail the test, creating considerable stress.
Another source of school-related stress occurs in high school where more students are taking more rigorous classes, such as Advanced Placement (AP) classes offered by the College Board. In the past 25 years, there has been explosive growth in the number of students taking AP classes, with one-quarter of all high-school graduates having taken at least one in 2004.
In addition, more high-school students are now taking the PSAT twice and the SAT and ACT at least once, if not multiple times.
“SAT scores are very crucial for your college application,” Grabowski said. “So, taking my test created stress and was very nerve racking.
The college admissions process has become more demanding, the the percentage of high school graduates has gone up 24% since 1991, an additional 17,000 graduates queuing up for college admission, leading colleges to become more picky.
Due to college becoming more demanding; the more admissions tests, more rigorous classes, more applications, more college tours. All these factors intensify stress, on top of all other stresses.
Bryce Goldsen, a junior at Bishop Blanchet, a Catholic high school near Seattle, carries a near-4.0 grade point average, takes advanced placement history and language arts classes, plays varsity tennis, participates in mock trial events and sits on the city’s local youth commission.
“Most of my stress comes from the pressure to perform well day in and day out,” he said.
Students want to please their parents by getting good grades, creating stress among teens of all ages.
Parents set unrealistic expectations for their children; studies show that parents often push their student to take higher level courses, though the child may not meet the requirement for those courses.
Parents should talk to stressed children about their feelings, make sure they get enough sleep and that they are not overscheduled.
On top of these factors, teens are stressed to fit in, to be popular, to be liked so they will not be bullied for being different.
Seventy-one percent of students have reported bully being a serious problem at their school. Being the victim causes stress for a student, intensifying anxiety and depression.
Being active is supposed to be a stress reliever for athletes, however, it could create more stress rather than relieving stress.
Student-athletes can have a late away game, only to arrive back at home at 8pm on a school night, having loads of AP and honor course classes of homework to do.
Also, athletes are driven to be the best, which may mean putting in extra hours at the gym to get faster, and stronger. However, improving in a sport will mean less time to get sleep and do homework.
“When I get home from a gymnastics meet, it could be around 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.,” Grabowski said. “I would still have a plentiful amount of AP Psychology and Calculus to do. Along with work and friends, it’s hard to balance all the work, while improving on myself as a gymnast.”
Signs of stress includes tears, crankiness, nightmares, attitude, and physical symptoms, including stomach aches, headaches and vague body pains.
High school junior, Hannah O’Brien, 17, of Acalanes High School in Lafayette, California has seen some of these extremes. She says she has witnessed student crying after getting low test scores, and seen students go days without sleep for a few days in a row to keep up with homework.
“I personally have seen so many of my closest friends absolutely break — emotionally, physically and mentally — under stress, and I knew a lot of it was coming from school work,” O’Brien said.
Over scheduling is a huge impact on student stresses. Students will enroll in too many AP classes that they can handle, and not be able to manage their time with other activities.
“For me it’s either do well in school and hangout with friends and not practice for gymnastics, or hangout with friends and do well in gymnastics, but fall behind on school work,” Grabowski said. “It’s so hard to balance.”
Parents should be on the lookout for previous stated symptoms of stress, however, eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse are also signs of stress.
“Parents should look for a change in grade status, attendance, tardiness, lack of responsiveness in the classroom or at home, and withdrawal into solitude,” said Richard Hall, assistant headmaster of Atlanta’s Lovett School.
There are safe, healthy ways for teens to cope with stress, however, according to the APA stress in America report, forty-two percent of teens have reported that they don’t know how to cope with stress, or they don’t do anything to cope with it.
Physical activity is reported to be the most effective way for teens to cope with their stresses. Whether this means playing a sport, going for a jog or taking a dog on a long walk.
Sleep is highly recommended to cope with stress, considering students do not get enough, To better sleeping habits, it is encouraged to cut back on watching television or engaging in any screen time at late hours, along with cutting back on caffeine intake.
Another way to handle stress is to focus on hobbies. Listening to music, drawing or painting and going to the movies could be a key component to relax someone after a stressful day.
Talking to someone about stresses is always a great idea. A parent or teacher may have ideas to help out to manage stress.
“After dealing with all types of stress throughout my high school career, I’ve learned what helps me manage stress, however it’s an ongoing trial and error process,” Grabowksi said.
Figuring out which coping mechanism works best will take time, but experts believe that everyone will figure what works for them.
“Sleeping, eating and going to the gym really are my prime mechanisms to manage stress,” Grabowski said. “The gym helps me relieve stress, due to endorphins being released, I have a more positive mindset.”
(Some information courtesy of psychologytoday.com, webmd.com, nbcnews.com, apa.org, nyu.edu and medicaldaily.com)