Coping with Stress as a Teen: Is There a Solution to the 21st Century Problem?

When I was a teen, in the 1990’s, I did not like taking tests, in fact I would flat out panic. This was somewhat unusual at the time. I figured it out with help and support and I now work with students who suffer from the same symptoms. In the 1990’s I probably wouldn’t have gotten a lot of business. Sadly, today about two out of three students that I work with are suffering from similar stress that I was suffering from over 20 years ago. The 1990’s abnormal has become the 21st century’s norm. Let’s look at some causes, symptoms to look out for, and possible solutions.


Causes of undue stress

1. Taking ALL standardized tests in one season, or even all in one month (READ: “More Standardized Testing: What is the SBAC?“)

2. Going through the steps of applying to college without help (An in-home Orange County college consultant will help eliminate the stress)

3. Attempting to ‘do it all’ at once (For example, children who are expected to be at the top of their class, take two AP courses and be the star quarterback is similar to asking an adult to work a 9 hour day, impress their boss every day, pick up their kids, make it to the gym, look fabulous and also cook a gourmet dinner all in the same day)

4. Self-induced or community-induced extreme fear of failure (teens who look at Facebook and newer social media sites are seeing a ‘highlight reel’ of their friends’ and peers’ accomplishments, which is not a realistic view of anyone’s daily life).

5. Lack of sleep. (Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night and none of us are still growing. Teens who get less than 8 hours of sleep will not perform as well at school and their health will suffer.) Many of the teens that I talk to say that they are getting between 5 and 7 hours of sleep a night. Some have even said that they are getting three hours a night on a regular basis or for the week before exams!

Symptoms to look out for

1. Stomach aches that have developed in the teen years- but did not occur in earlier childhood –and are frequent and disruptive.

2. Chronic headaches that have started in the teen years and are exacerbated during exam season.

3. A loss of interest in socializing with friends or the feeling of anxiousness when it comes time to relax.

4. Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep and/or falling asleep in class or during the day on a regular basis (many teens like to stay up late but they should not have trouble falling or staying asleep).

5. A sudden loss of interest in academics (from a teen who has consistently been academically inclined in the past). Private tutors are great at boosting confidence and getting kids curious again.


Possible solutions

1. Help your teen through an unchangeable situation. For example, they have signed up for two AP classes and the exams are next month. Help them get through it the best you can. Hire a tutor, help them organize, make sure they aren’t staying up until 3 AM to study, let them have some time away from the school books. One trip to the mall or a trip to the frozen yogurt shop with extra sprinkles won’t make or break the exams.

2. Learn from past mistakes. If taking two AP exams and the PSAT in one month has resulted in constant stomach aches and headaches, make next year different. Since the AP exams are in May, take the SAT or ACT (READ: “ACT Tips From a Private Irvine Tutor“) in the fall or winter. Have a tutor start coming to help before things get overwhelming. Arrange for 8 hours sleep and balanced social time.

3. Encourage your teen to engage in exercise of their choice. If your 15-year-old daughter loves working out at the gym and chit chatting with her friends three times a week, let her socialize while she is getting some exercise induced endorphins. If your son loves surfing, let him go three times a week. You get the idea (READ: “The Incredible Benefits of Regular Exercise for Teens“)

4. Talk with your teen about what is working and what is not. This is a great way to pinpoint the cause of the stress. Maybe S/he could handle everything else if only AP Calculus weren’t in the picture. S/he could sign up for AP Art History instead. Maybe if s/he was allowed to study at the coffee shop on Fridays and socialize a bit, the rest of the week would be no big deal.

5. Find a coping mechanism (that doesn’t involve social media). Painting & drawing, music (playing it or listening to it), running, swimming, nature hikes, making a hot cup of tea and resting on a comfy couch, doing yoga and/or meditation are all coping mechanisms that have worked in the past for students and teens.

If only it were that simple

We, as a society, are asking so very much of our teens today. As an educator, I want to see them all reach their goals, get into their dream college, get high scores on the SAT while all at the same time enjoying their stage of life and being healthy and happy. Parents, teachers, tutors and the teens themselves all play a role in maintaining a ‘happy medium’ during those crazy teen years.

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