Would 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:
- 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?”
- 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.
- 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.
- Teach your teen time management and being focused without distraction.
- Teach relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, stretching, walking, playing with the dog, drawing, or meditation.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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
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