New Study Says Teens Feel Under Pressure. What Can Parents Do?
My son went to bed one night and woke up in full-fledged puberty the next morning. Suddenly, he is tired all the time and we need to wake him. He is flouting a dirtstache and he seems larger, thicker and more gangly.
And I have reason to be. Teens these days are subjected to a fast-paced world without rest. According, to a new study by the Toronto School Board teens are feeling overwhelmingly anxious, worried and down.
This is the first time that the country's largest board has asked kids about their emotional well-being and the large sample of 103,000 students is serving as a "wake-up call" to school boards and parents around the country.
In grades seven and eight, 60 per cent of kids are worried about their future. Three-quarters of high school students say they worry about their future, more than half lose sleep over it and one-third feel like crying all the time.
Research co-ordinator Marie Yau said, “A majority of students are telling us they are nervous or anxious all the time. These are new items to us, and quite shocking . . . It reflects what youth in our urban centres are thinking about” and has broader implications for other school boards and communities.
What could be making our teens so anxious? In some ways their lives are easier as parents try and cushion them from failure, they have technology and communication at their fingertips and their lives are easy compared to generations passed.
Today it’s become, right from Grade 7 and 8, students are worried about their grades and being competitive. I see kids that are confused, overwhelmed, not able to experience things in a natural way because they have to move faster, they have to do more.”
We parents have to ask if we are contributing to our teens' stress by over-identifying with their success and failures, not just in school or on the rink, but in social settings as well.
There have been other studies that show that Facebook and social media can contribute to stress because most teens (and adults) only put their happy face up for others to see. This can lead to a feeling of being a social outcast and failure no matter how successful you are.
But what are we parents to do? How do we lower our teens' stress (and ours as well, since a stressed-out kid is a grumpy one.)
The Globe had some pointers (in an article I can't find online, so I'm paraphrasing):
Keep them busy, but bite your tongue: Keeping teens involved in extra-curriculars that they enjoy is good for them, but attaching achievement goals to them can increase stress. A expert says "We have to be hypervigilant about our kids being drawn into this attitude of 'achieve more, and excel more at all costs.'" Carl Honore's advice? Drop them at the rink and go for a latte to relax.
Find your teen an 'auntie': Find an older person (relative or not) to be a sounding board for your kid. Girls especially need someone who is comfortable with their bodies and can "impart life lessons that focus on character, not fashion sense."
Encourage them to face their fears (even if they fail): Carl Honore says we are living in a "photoshop culture" where we want to edit out the bad stuff. Force kids outside of their comfort zone, allow them to fail, to make mistakes and experience being a little bit embarrassed. (I have an anxious teen, and I know this is something we have to do more often.)
Sleep, eat, sweat and be merrry: Teens need 10 hours sleep but they only get seven hours on average. Taking care of themselves and letting off steam decreases stress.
Reduce your own anxiety (yes you! the parent): Anxious parents are more likely to pass on anxiety to their kids. You have to be less anxious than your kids to help them. Teach them de-stressing techniques like deep breathing and mindfulness. Spend time as a family that isn't goal-oriented. Drop the snark, and self-deprecating humour sometimes. You home should be a haven.
Needless to say that thinking about a teen's anxiety increases my own anxiety. But that's not good for anyone, so I guess I should go out for a "latte," (I'm sure the expert meant a glass of wine).
What do you think of the study? Do you think life is more stressful for teens today?