You’re probably not the cause of your teenager’s stress and anxiety, but you’re probably feeling the brunt of it at your house, right? Slamming doors, emotional outbursts, the silent treatment…
Yep, all classics.
See, teenagers get a bad reputation for being moody and standoffish with their parents. But I think teens are just overwhelmed and stressed; they have so many hard-to-achieve expectations that they’re just trying to live up to.
Think about this: the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey revealed that 30% of teens reported feeling sad or depressed because of stress; and 31% admitted to feeling overwhelmed by their stress.
So what can you, awesome concerned parent, do when your teen is stressed?
Bonus: Want an easier conversation with your teen? Subscribe to receive this free checklist of phrases to say (and avoid!) during your discussions!
What Your Teen is Up Against Right Now
High School Homework
You may think that you had a lot of homework back in your day, but trust me when I say that homework is much harder and much more abundant for your teen than it was when you were in school.
It’s not enough to study and get good grades anymore; a 4.0 GPA just doesn’t cut it these days.
Your teen is competing with the best of the best out there—and they’re incredibly competitive. Teens wanting to get into selective schools can’t just try to keep up, they have to excel and surpass a bunch of other teen geniuses.
That’s a lot of pressure.
According to a poll from the Harvard School of Public Health, homework was the biggest reason teens cited for being stressed out. It’s not hard to see why:
During a survey of 1,000 teachers, researchers learned that high school teachers assign an average of 3.5 hours of homework each week. Multiply that number by five or six teachers, depending on how many classes your teen is taking, and that can add up to 17.5-21 hours a week.
That’s up to 4.25 hours per weeknight, or 3 hours each night if your teen does homework on the weekends. Geez.
What’s worse is that these numbers are just averages. We both know your teen is getting dumped with more homework because she’s taking honors and AP classes.
AP classes are introductory college courses; they force your teen to dive deeper into the subject material and favor heavy analysis and critical thinking.
The AP math homework will have long, complicated problems, APs in the humanities will have copious amounts of reading and writing, and science APs will have your teen poring over dense theories and experiments.
Let’s start by understanding the real root of your teen’s stress and open up a dialogue for communication from there.
Expect AP classes to add another 30%–40% more work to your teen’s homework pile.
Imagine getting 30%–40% more take-home work after you clock out from your full day of work.
I’d say you’d be a little stressed, too.
Choosing the Right College (and Getting In!)
How many colleges did you apply to when you were a senior?
One? A handful? Just the ones your parents went to?
Only 58.3% of teens in 1982 were preparing for college. That number rose to 79% in 2012.
On top of being prepared, the U.S. high school graduation rate reached an all-time high in 2014 with 82% of high school seniors picking up their diplomas.
Since more teenagers are graduating, there’s more competition to get into selective colleges.
The National Association for College Admissions Counseling says the average rate of acceptance for four-year colleges and universities in 2014 was 64.7%.
Newsflash: Half of all selective colleges admit fewer than 30% of their applicants!
If we’re talking top-tier schools, here are the real acceptance rates for 2016:
If your teen’s dream is to get into an elite school like Stanford, they have to beat out close to 40,000 applicants to be in the top 4.7% to land a coveted acceptance letter. No pressure, right?
To your stressed teen, the fear of not getting into any of their dream schools looms over them everyday, even if they don’t admit it. With acceptance rates this low, how could you blame them?
A huge part of your teen’s college-prep stress stems from the SAT and ACT, aka those two standardized tests used by colleges to compare their potential applicants.
Your teen should ideally be practicing for his or her chosen test a little bit every night to hone her time management and question-reading skills. Hours of studying, tutoring, and practice are required to boost your teen’s score to the level he or she will need to guarantee admissions spots.
Extracurriculars / Sports
Your teen knows that colleges love applicants who have more going on than just grades and test scores. After all, universities want passionate students who will contribute to their campuses. The only problem is that these extracurriculars and sports can be time-demanding and take away from homework and SAT/ACT studying.
However, both of these look great on college applications and give your teen some socializing time. Help them make room for these in their schedule.
As Kelly Wallace from CNN reports:
“Today's teens, unlike when I was growing up, can now compare their academic performance and everything else about their existence to other teens 24 hours a day through updates on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, you name the social network, and that only increases the stress.”
Gone are the breaks teens used to get from their peers when the bell rang. Now they’re constantly connected via social media or cell phones and they’re expected to always be around.
It’s All About Perspective
In that same Stress in America survey, adults and teens were asked to rate their stress level on a 10-point scale. Adults averaged a 5.1; teens averaged a 5.8.
Now, that’s not to say that adults have less stress in their lives than teens do. Certainly juggling financial obligations, work stress, and familial pressure is not as simple as managing high school social studies and a part-time job at the ice cream shop.
Here’s the big difference: You’ve had years to learn how to manage a hectic schedule, changing social circles, demands at work, and planning for a future. Your teen’s just at the beginning of this lifelong learning lesson.
She can’t know everything yet, but she doesn’t want you to tell her, either. She needs to find out on her own.
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Listen—Really Listen—To Your Teen
Start asking open-ended questions that prompt a follow-up response to get the conversation going. Your teen will become more comfortable talking to you when he or she's stressed if you show that you’re available to talk openly anytime.
This is not the time for a lecture. Don’t judge your teen when he gives you an answer you don’t expect. If something startles or confuses you, ask another open ended follow-up question.
Find Healthy Stress-Busters
My favorite way to banish stress is through physical activity—any way to get in your body and out of your head.
Sign up for a yoga class or a basketball league with your teen. Biking, walking, and hiking are all great options that relieve stress and sneak some exercise in. Make it a point to disconnect from the big and small screens by doing more outdoor activities together as a family.
Also, never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep! Did you know that sleep deprivation has been linked to increases in stress and anxiety?
Teens are fiercely independent and they want to test themselves without asking for help; to prove that they can do it on their own. They have to go through this time to be prepared for being on their own at university. Think of this like college training wheels.
Now that you understand why your teen is so stressed, it should be easier for you to put yourselves in their shoes and see life from their perspective. Truly grasping what they’re struggling with and stressing about means you’ll know exactly how to help them get through it.
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