The Busy Lives of Teens
Stress is defined as “the state of extreme difficulty, pressure or strain.”
Each time we consider our role as parents in these articles, it seems helpful to reflect on our own time as teenagers – you know, “When we were your age”. This seems particularly true when we look at the stress that our teens experience today. It is different for our teens than it was for us. Sometimes this difference makes it hard, as parents, to understand and recognize the unique pressures our teens face today.
So, let’s think back to the stresses we felt as teens. Some of the more important ones that come to mind would include: dating, being popular, what we were planning to be i.e. an engineer, a doctor, a teacher, or a nurse… We may have even spent some time worrying about our schoolwork and our grades! Now looking at our own teenagers, most would agree, “times have changed”. Today’s adolescents are living in a society that is faster paced, technologically advanced, and one that places higher demands and stress on teens than we experienced.
Researchers describe adolescence as “one of the most stressful times of life.” Most noticeable would be the significant physical, emotional and hormonal changes that are occurring. Alongside these changes are teens’ desires for increasing independence, though they are not quite ready for the corresponding responsibility. The struggle to uncover who they are in a world that gives them mixed messages add to the stress that many teens may experience.
In today’s world, academic expectations are higher, learning is accelerated and the competition to enter post secondary institutions is fierce. As teens, when we were asked, “What will you be when you grow up?” our choices were more limited and well-defined. Expectations were to stay in our chosen field for the duration of our working days. Nowadays, teens have countless job/career choices, and they may choose to pursue several of these options during their working life. This need to make choices from these limitless opportunities can be stressful for teens (and parents too).
Another pressure teens face is created by their intrigue, use, and dependence on technology. Instant messaging, cell phones and computers are all ways to be in constant contact with their peers. (see Parents at Ainlay article, June 2007.)This significant demand on their time can also add to the stress of managing their busy, overscheduled days. A recent survey of Canadian teenagers found that 40% “felt under constant pressure to accomplish more than they could handle, while 65% cut back on their sleep to get things done.” (Statistics Canada 2007) It is a well-documented fact that today’s teens tend to be chronically sleep deprived, as society requires them to sustain routines that oppose their biological clocks, and keep up with increasing demands on their time. There is grave concern about the short and long-term impact sleep deprivation will have on our teens.
Interestingly, research also shows that it is during adolescence that risks for future health problems may arise. Teens with unresolved stress may turn to harmful behavior choices that they may retain on into their adult years. Attempts to deal with stress on their own may lead teens to choose high risk behaviors such as: alcohol and substance use, cigarette smoking, binge eating, and anorexia, to name a few. They may also suffer from anxiety or depression.
Stress in adolescents should always be acknowledged and monitored by parents. What might we as parents notice if our teen is struggling with stress? Research shows that there are certain signs for parents to take seriously, including:
increased physical complaints such as headaches, stomach aches, frequent colds, muscle pains, chronic fatigue;
anti-social behavior such as rebellion in the home (more than usual) or teens becoming increasingly withdrawn;
missed school or poor performance at school;
changes in eating and sleeping habits (e.g. sleeplessness), and
loss of enjoyment of favourite activities.
If not dealt with, in the longer term, stress can lead to more serious consequences such as depression and thoughts of self-harming behaviours.
Notes for Parents
When it comes to teenage stress, many of these messages for parents are familiar:
• Be involved with your teen on a daily basis. Sharing family meals is one great way to do this. The literature shows a direct link with healthy adolescent development and sharing regular mealtimes. It’s a perfect time to connect.
• As parents, we are often called upon to be role models for our teens. When it comes to stress, we need to be careful that our stress does not become their stress. Modeling positive ways to handle stress is important.
• Be aware of possible stressors for your teen, and recognize changes in their behavior that may be related to stress.
• Know the signs and symptoms of unresolved stress, and talk with your teen about any concerns you have for them and offer support. If your teen doesn’t want to talk to you, help them choose another respected adult that they feel comfortable talking with.
• Be mindful of not over scheduling your teen, or allowing them to over schedule themselves.
• Pay attention to the demands technology has on your teen, whether those demands are social (keeping in touch with their peers) or school-related. Talk with them about having a healthy balance of time spent being in touch with friends.
It is important especially for a teen who is under stress not to feel isolated, as that leaves them alone and vulnerable to choosing unhealthy ways to cope with the stress they are experiencing. Loneliness can also lead to depression.
If you notice that your teen is experiencing serious distress, make an appointment with your family doctor or call 211, the Support Network’s Community Connections line. A trained information and referral specialist will listen to you and help you find the services you need. It is important to share this information with the school, so that the school can monitor and support your teen also. Contact either your assistant principal at Harry Ainlay or a counsellor in Student Services.
“Despite the stereotypical image of lounging, sleeping,
nonchalant teenagers, many of them carry a heavy load.”
Statistics Canada, 2007