Stress is inevitable. As much as we’d love to shield our kids from pressure, the sooner we begin helping them develop healthy coping mechanisms, the sooner they’ll be equipped to effectively manage their stress when we’re not by their side.
The other day I was having a conversation with my daughter who is a sophomore in college. As I sat quietly and listened, she went on and on telling me about everything she had to do in her classes – assignments that are coming due, projects she needs to work on, a test she has to study for, a help session she needs to attend – I could hear the anxiety in her voice, she was completely overwhelmed and stressed out.
Regardless of whether you have a child in middle school, high school or college, the academic pressure placed on kids today is enormous. In fact, according to recent teen stress statistics, 68% of teens claim they’re completely stressed out about school. Other studies show that teens today are actually more stressed out than adults. And, I can see why…
Every year the academic bar seems to be raised a notch higher with kids being encouraged to push themselves just a little harder, put more emphasis on the rigor of their classes and aim for a higher GPA. What makes matters worse is that “average” kids are oftentimes made to feel inadequate when they struggle to keep up with the never-ending rise in rigor which only adds to their level of stress. Add the additional pressure of teens having to juggle extracurricular activities, volunteering, social pressure and family commitments and you have a potential recipe for disaster.
As parents, we need to help our kids find healthy ways to cope with the constant pressure they face day in and day out. Here’s a few ways you can help ease the stress your child may be feeling academically:
Help Them Establish a No Stress Zone
Teens need a place where they can go to escape from the daily pressure of school, family, friends, and activities. Whether they shut the world out in their bedroom listening to music or get lost catching up on their favorite movies on Netflix, they need time and space to relax, decompress and recuperate from the barrage of information, deadlines, and responsibilities they’re faced with day in and day out. Give them the freedom to find their own healthy escape route and support them by giving them the much-needed space they need.
Help Manage Their Stress by Managing Yours
The best way to help our kids manage their stress is by keeping ours in check. You may not realize it, but your child is watching and learning from you and they sense your stress. The coping mechanisms you use to manage stress are inadvertently being passed along to your child. If you have unhealthy coping methods to manage stress, oftentimes your kids will too.
Be a Sounding Board if They Need One
Studies have shown that having the ability to vent can feel almost akin to problem-solving, providing it doesn’t become a habit. Giving your child the opportunity and freedom to vent will actually help them alleviate their stress and tension and help them feel just a bit “lighter.” In doing so, you’re giving them a chance to verbalize their thoughts and release the pressure in the boiling pot, so to speak. Plus, in most cases, it’s far better to release negative emotions than bottle them up inside, and by allowing your child to talk about their stress, it opens the door to discussions to help them establish healthy, strategic coping mechanisms.
Take a Breather from Outside Activities
For some kids, the academic pressure they’re facing really wouldn’t be too consuming and stressful if they didn’t have to juggle everything else they have going on in their life. If you see your child becoming completely overwhelmed academically, tired far too often, or depressed, take a hard look at their outside activities that may be piling on the stress. If they’re volunteering, involved in clubs, and on the soccer team with practice four nights a week, maybe it’s time they back off of a couple of the peripheral activities to ease their stress. Downtime does not equate to being lazy… kids need downtime to interrupt the constant flow of non-negotiable demands in their life.
Get to Bed Earlier
Did you know that 90% of teens are sleep deprived and a whopping 20% of teens are getting by on less than five hours of sleep a night? Studies have shown that not only is the average teen desperately sleep deprived, the impact of that sleep deprivation for teens is especially profound. In fact, a study of 28,000 high school students found that each hour of sleep lost is associated with a 38% increased risk of feeling sad or hopeless and teens who sleep an average of six hours per night or less are three times more likely to suffer from depression. As hard as it is to monitor and control your child’s sleep habits in their teen years, encourage your child to establish a regular pattern of sleep to help them cope with the daily pressures of academics and life.
Get Out Doors and Exercise
This one is a no-brainer, but it’s still worth mentioning. We all know the importance of exercising to stay healthy and strong, but it’s especially important when we’re stressed or feeling anxious. If your child isn’t into a sport and getting them to exercise is like trying to move the Rock of Gibraltar, make it fun. Take the family on a hiking trip for the day, go on a bike ride, go canoeing, paddle boarding or skiing. Do what you have to, but get your child outside where they can take a deep breath of fresh air and begin to put their stress into perspective. Nothing helps us assimilate stress better than a little exertion and sunshine.
Toss In a Distraction
What works for some kids may not work others. For my daughters, an afternoon at the mall where I helped them pick out a new top or a cute new pair of shoes always seemed to brighten their day and relieve their stress. For my son, I had to use an entirely different strategy – a new video game, a new accessory for his telescope or a trip to the Apple Store to check out the latest iPhone. The art of distraction when teens are under stress works wonders. Even if it’s something small like buying them an inexpensive gift, taking them out for ice cream after studying for four hours or taking them to a movie to help them escape, it helps breaks up the monotony of pressure in life, reinforces the idea that you’re there for them and reminds them that they aren’t alone.
These strategies to help your teen manage stress are simply a few suggestions. There are dozens of additional ways you can help including encouraging your child to set up a meeting with their counselor or teacher to discuss their workload and establish a workable plan to manage it, talking with and seeking support from friends who are feeling the same pressure, and helping them create a calendar of responsibilities and deadlines so they can visualize their to-do list and check things off their list as they complete tasks.
As parents, we have a tremendous amount of control over how our kids manage stress. Every child deals with stress differently – the key is to find what works for your child, teach them to keep their daily to-do list in perspective and work together to find healthy solutions and outlets to cope.