8 Ways Parents Can Help Teens with Academic Overwhelm

Female student overwhelmed with homeworkWould you work a highly demanding, fast-paced job Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., take a small break, then work another job that requires intense focus both mentally and physically from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.? Let’s say the pay sucked. Advancement was dependent on performance, and your coworkers were sometimes enemies. In addition, you had only 20 minutes to eat lunch in a loud, chaotic environment.

Sound appealing? I didn’t think so. But yet we ask our children to do it. Welcome to high school 2015.

Today’s kids are being asked—required, more like—to work in this kind of system. The amount of academic work in a given day, added onto extracurricular activities and homework, has reached an all-time back-breaking load.

There is a general understanding with kids and parents today: The academic world has changed. When many parents today were in high school, they had homework, yes; but they also had part-time jobs, friends, went to social events, and basically had a life. An academically advanced high school student now has no time for going to the mall with friends, no time for a part-time job (unless he or she gives up a sport or other pursuit), and no time for rest and reflection. Add in social media with its false sense of connection and, simply put, teens are struggling with stress, anxiety, and depression at much higher rates than was experienced 30 years ago. The intended effect of helping our children compete globally by increasing curricula has indeed come at a cost.

Homework, hard work, and perseverance are all good things. Teens should learn to handle tough stuff. But should they learn it while being prescribed antianxiety medication to quell rising fear about not getting into the “right” college? Should they learn it while being prescribed antidepressants because they can’t imagine a happy future given their overwhelmed present?

We as parents and academia are missing the point: We cannot continue to ask teens to handle all of this without giving them the tools to handle it.

Here are eight ways to help your teen:

  1. Ask about school pressures and then listen with the intention of understanding, not responding and judging. Ask your teen, “What’s it like to be you?”
  2. Identify what is causing the most stress in your teen’s life. Is it a specific class, a certain friend, pressure from you? Your teen will answer honestly only if you are listening without judgment.
  3. Check yourself. How are you handling stress in your life? If the answer is not very well, then this is a great time to learn better stress management for you and your teen. He or she is watching you.
  4. Teach your teen time management and being focused without distraction.
  5. Teach relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, stretching, walking, playing with the dog, drawing, or meditation.
  6. Communicate with a teacher, the school, or the coach (make sure your teen knows you are doing this) to gain further insight into what’s happening. Sometimes this small act can make a huge impact.
  7. Reduce pressure by discussing your expectations of your teen. Most teens think their parents want them to go to Harvard, but most parents just want their kids to be happy. Talk about it. Are you part of the problem?
  8. Spend time with your teen doing fun things!

The goal of parenting and educating is to raise responsible and resilient kids. In today’s academic environment, mixed with social changes and pressure, childhood is becoming a stressful phase of life. It is our obligation to empower and teach our children both academically and emotionally how to navigate the challenges.


Increased levels of anxiety and depression as teenage experience changes over time. (2012, March 14). Nuffield Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/news/increased-levels-anxiety-and-depression-teenage-experience-changes-over-time

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Angela Avery, MA, LLPC, NCC, Obsessions and Compulsions / OCD Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Ron

    April 24th, 2015 at 9:26 AM

    I honestly don’t know how some of these teens do it. They are not only facing horribly rigorous schedules at school but them they come home for a little bit and head back to a job, sometimes full time. I never had to work like that in school. We were still given time to be kids, but today they are being made to feel like if they don’t do all of these extra things then college just might not be an option for them anymore. I have told my own kids that their job is school and we don’t make them work after school. We are able to do that but I know that there are many families who can’t. But my priorities for my kids are their grades and I want that to be their priority too.

  • timora

    April 25th, 2015 at 5:31 AM

    I am pretty sure that my own kids just want to hear me say that I am proud of them no matter what they do.
    I don’t care if you make an A or a B as long as you did your best and tried your hardest.
    I think that this is the one thing that parents today are messing up on. We place so much pressure on these kids that there are many who start wondering if the only way that they are even worthy of their parents is to over achieve and do things that maybe they are not quite as capable of doing.
    It’s sad really, because I would never want something like school ruin the relationship that I have with my children.

  • Cason

    April 25th, 2015 at 1:29 PM

    One really great point here is that our kids watch us to see how we react. If we lose our minds over every single thing and stress out over the smallest thing then guess what? They are probably going to do exactly the same thing because this is what we have taught them to do via our own behavior.

  • Joe

    August 14th, 2017 at 12:15 PM

    So true Cason.

  • Rodney

    April 26th, 2015 at 9:45 AM

    We have to be willing to stop pressuring our children about the little things in life.

    No one has ever, on a job interview, asked me what grade I made in 7th grade science. Never.

    I understand that later on these things will bring some relevance and weight but when the kids are this young and feeling this much pressure I think that there is something that is seriously wrong with that picture.

  • richie

    April 27th, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    teaching them how to do breathing exercises and relaxation techniques could be very helpful

  • Joel

    April 27th, 2015 at 4:16 PM

    I want my children to do well and get scholarships, and so that means a lot of work on their end and mine.

    We pay for music lessons, let them stay after school, take the honers classes and pay for tutors when we need to. If I ever thought that my kids didn’t want things this way then maybe we would stop pushing so hard. But this is how they seem to thrive. Should I take the chance of changing things us and they might lose all of their motivation to succeed?

  • Desmond

    April 28th, 2015 at 10:44 AM

    My kids have always performed pretty well under pressure I must say, but I think that their mom and I have always given them the support that they need form the two of us to get everything that they need to get accomplished. I think that this is just as much my responsibility as it is theirs. The work may be done by them but I as a parent should have to do what I need to do behind the scenes to make sure that they have everything that they need. These are the kids whom I think get the most stressed, the ones who feel that pressure but without the support from mom and dad that they ultimately need to get it all done.

  • marley

    April 28th, 2015 at 4:43 PM

    We all have our breaking points, I just think that especially for kids many of them have a hard time saying when enough is enough.
    They feel pressure at home, pressure at school, and even though we think that they are so mature many of them have no idea how to handle it at all.
    Give them a break, let them relax and be kids.

  • Christian

    April 29th, 2015 at 9:41 AM

    Going with my daughter to a new counselor tonight for this very issue. Wish us luck!

  • Teri

    April 30th, 2015 at 1:24 PM

    Take some of the pressure off that parents are placing on their kids because goodness knows they face enough of that from everywhere else!

  • Talitha

    May 2nd, 2015 at 11:07 AM

    Working with the classroom teachers can be so effective in helping your kid out with thsoe things he or she is feeling. They may not actually understand that the fact that they have a stomach ache all of the time or headaches could be coming from the stress and pressure that they are placing on themselves and that they also feel is being placed on the by school and work. It is good to have an advocate who will help you intervene and mediate and I think that a teacher could be a great addition to any treatment plan like this.

  • suzanne

    May 11th, 2015 at 3:12 PM

    I’m so impressed with all the creative ways you are getting yourself out there!!
    I’d send you referrals “in a heartbeat”!

    Suzanne Sebree, LPC
    Director, Grace Counseling, Inc.

  • Angela

    October 6th, 2015 at 8:02 AM

    Hi Angela,

    Thank you for this! I feel much of the time & school demands put on high schoolers are similar to what children in daycare, grade and middle schoolers experience as well-relative to ages & stages developmentally social emotional physical cognitive…

    Due to necessity to make ends meet I would wake my daughter up at 6 am get her ready and off to daycare for 7 and pick up at 5:30 pm! This was between age 18 months – K and once in grade school it was the same time frame because of before and after care. I hated it and my gut told me everyday this was wrong but the alternative was working less and not meeting her other basic needs for lack of income.

    I felt at the time it was my only option. A 12 hour day for a toddler from wake to home and of course supper bath once home.

    If you have any similar info to share for preschool, grade & middle school I’d love to read it.

    Thank you!


  • Jordann

    January 30th, 2016 at 9:02 PM

    I disagree with these steps as I am a high school junior who has pulled two all nighters in the past week to try and keep up. I am taking 5 AP classes and publicizing that parents should spend more time with their kids is impossible during the ridiculous schedule that we are asked to maintain. I haven’t eaten lunch during my lunch period in over 4 months because I spend every moment trying to do one more thing so that I can go to sleep before 4:30. The only things a parent can do is try to not get down to a student’s level, but understand that the stress the child is facing is much more than they comprehend. I stopped telling my parents the work I was assigned about a week into school because my parents would take this knowledge and say that I should stop doing things like listening to music to calm myself down because I had too much work. It is all a balance between taking care of yourself physically and making sure that your grades don’t suffer too much because of the breaks you take. It is belittling and frustrating to even consider my parents imaging the amount of stuff I do every day and have them still ask me to do extra things such as watch a sibling, babysit on my days off to earn money to pay for college, and sign me up for things that I can’t humanly participate in. I can write a paper at 3 in the morning very effectively and get my stuff done, but I don’t tell my parents what I had to go through in order to achieve a good grade. I avoid the subject, don’t sleep, and am happy with my A for the 2 seconds that I am not asked to do something else. Parents can’t help, and teachers are selfish by requiring us to ruin our lives to finish assignment after assignment, and there is no changing that.

  • KrisB

    March 14th, 2016 at 3:21 PM

    Thx Jordann for your comment and setting the record by being real about things. Am parent of freshman who just started at a stem school and have been enraged, in tears, obsessively controlling, and manic depressive (not necessarily in that order) over the inhuman academic workload my kid is enduring. I know he needs help but he’s not taking any steps to find it all the while not sleeping, took 6 weeks to complete missed assignments due to an illness, and has absolutely no life. We can’t make any extracurricular family plans anymore for fear of him falling behind. Basically we have no life. Am super upset as he has become depressed, doesn’t seem to care anymore and talks about just wanting it all to be over. I’m beyond fed up with the education system in thiscountry but don’t know where else to turn. He’s gotta graduate from somewhere but it’s like Goldilocks & The Right School. Buncha crap – my heart is broken and feel like a failure as a parent…

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    March 14th, 2016 at 4:02 PM

    Dear KrisB,

    We want to thank you for your comment. The GoodTherapy.org Team is not qualified to offer professional advice, but we do want to encourage you to reach out. If you or your child would like to talk about this or any other concern with a mental health professional, feel free to return to our homepage, https://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    We wish you the best of luck in your search.

    Kind regards,

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  • Momofateen

    September 17th, 2017 at 9:00 PM

    I’m reading this because I have been feeling that I have failed as a parent. My daughter is 13 and I feel that I am part of the problem, adding more pressure to do better. :( However, I’m determined to make this work for all of us, as I realize that this is something that we as a family have to handle, and this problem is not going away. It’s not easy because all we as parents want for our children is happiness, yet, our behavior does just the opposite.

  • Monique

    February 16th, 2020 at 7:33 AM

    Empathy is a two way giving
    Humility and high self esteem a requirement for life to flourish

  • Alana

    November 9th, 2020 at 5:59 PM

    I am a Freshman in high school, and I always feel like I let my parents down when I get a B, or when I am behind on work. Some days I literally come home crying because I am so stressed out with all the homework, and expectation, and I feel like I let everyone down. I have almost no time to hangout with friends, or just be a normal teenager.

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