month, the American Psychological Association announced the
results of a study on stress in America. They asked the
question: Are teens adopting the stress habits of adults?
actually reported that their stress level was higher than
adults, 5.8 for teens versus 5.1 for adults on a 10-point
schedule. About a third also said they felt overwhelmed or sad
or depressed because of stress. A third said they felt tired,
and a fourth said they sometimes skip meals because of stress.
Only 16 percent said they felt their stress level was on the
decline compared with last year.
are our teens just as stressed out as we are? Well, itís
kind of our fault. Parents are modeling our own stress, and we
arenít showing our teens how to manage it.
learn from their parents, how their parents deal with
stress," says Dr. Bradley Berg, medical director of
pediatrics at Scott & White Hospital-Round Rock. "If
parents donít handle stress well, kids donít handle it,
Caron Farrell, a pediatrician and pediatric psychiatrist at
the Seton Mind Institute, sees the same thing. "They are
not seeing how to regulate stress," she says. "They
are feeling stress oozing from their parents."
suggests kids, and probably their parents, explore some
relaxation techniques like meditation. It will serve them
later in life if they learn how to relax now. Parents and kids
can do things together like schedule in homework breaks,
schedule physical activity such as a walk around the block,
eat a healthy snack right after school and schedule in
downtime that is not related at all to school or after-school
the things Farrell sees kids experiencing is this lack of
downtime, even when they are at home. Social media has created
a situation where kids are always "on." They are
always having to navigate how to fit in with their peers and
they no longer get a break from that. They also are not
socializing away from home, away from school, with
face-to-face, fun interactions.
doctors are seeing the level of stress amping up starting in
the middle school years, though some kids are experiencing it
much earlier. Middle school is when the peer pressure
increases and the level of school and outside activities
are pushed to excel," Berg says. "Thereís so much
coming at them in every direction. Ö Everything is more
complicated. They are almost leading adult lives."
also play into how kids handle the stress.
problems seem trivial to adults, but they are very important
to them," Farrell says. "They are trying to figure
out: What am I going to be?"
also are chronically sleep deprived. This is the time when
they need 10 hours of sleep and their bodies are physically
wired to stay up late and sleep in, yet we make them get up
early for school. Itís very typical for teens to sleep the
weekend away to try to make up for a lack of sleep during the
need to help kids manage their schedules and be more realistic
about expectations. The message we should be sending, says
Farrell, is that no one is perfect and kids should try to do
their best, not someone elseís best.
kids might handle four extracurricular activities and school
fine, but many will not, and that should be monitored. Itís
OK not to do everything.
should be looking for warning signs such as changes in sleep
and eating patterns, emotional reactivity, statements about
feeling overwhelmed or depressed, being withdrawn, grades
slipping, lack of motivation, stomachaches and headaches.
signs also could mean that there is something physically
wrong, so Berg suggests starting with the pediatrician to rule
out those causes and then seeking help from a psychologist or
psychiatrist. The warning signs also could be indicative of
drug use. "They are trying to find escape," Farrell
says of these stressed-out kids with little downtime.
see that your child is one of these stressed-out kids, you
might want to make radical changes to their daily structure,
but this is also the age that kids push back. Farrell
recommends making gradual changes and modeling good behavior,
like taking a walk yourself or putting down your own cellphone
at night or during dinner.
kids who feel like school homework is overwhelming, tackle the
little things first, rather than the big project. The brain,
Berg says, tends to work in numbers, not levels, so if you can
cross five little things off the list, the stress level will
go down more than if you finish one big project.
is "part of growing up now, but it doesnít have to
be," Berg says.