Between tests, band lessons, baseball practice, five-hour shifts at work, 10-page papers, choosing a college, rocky relationships and nagging parents, teenagers have a lot on their plates. No wonder today’s high school students are more stressed out than any other previous generations’.
“Being an adolescent is probably the most frustrating and confusing time of one’s life,” said Gayle Byrne, director of counseling at Montecito Fine Arts College of Design and Fine Arts High School in Monrovia, Calif. “First of all, you’re neither a child nor an adult. On one hand, you’re told to be responsible and ‘act your age,’ but you are almost totally controlled by your environment, even to the point of needing permission to use the restroom in most high schools.”
Springtime, in the world of any student, is a challenge. The season welcomes some extra sunshine, but it also ushers in new anxieties and piles of work. That means final exams, finding summer jobs, prom and, for seniors, planning for college, preparing to move away from home and saying goodbye to friends.
As an underclassman, Tiffany Hinkle, a senior at Harlington South in Texas, focused on maintaining a high GPA, being involved in many activities and keeping up a “don’t be stupid” mentality. But senior year has changed her perspective.
“The stress I face now is whether I reach deadlines for scholarships, essays and getting accepted,” she said. “It seems high school is a please everyone game.”
No matter where you are in the scheme of high school, the day-to-day struggles of trying to please everyone can catch up to you.
“Ever since the start of my junior year, it has been extremely stressful,” said Jared Koehler, a junior at Alvin High School in Texas. “You have too much on your plate to worry about: class rank, friends, school involvement, sports, community service, and countless other things stack loads of pressure on a student. And, honestly, it’s unfair.”
According to an article for National Network for Child Care by human development specialist Dr. Aaron T. Ebata, these kinds of persistent and ongoing stressors are often harder on adolescents than major life events. Also, studies have found that teenagers, whose brains are transitioning from childhood to adulthood, are more prone to feel stressed from an event that might not even faze a fully-developed adult. Teens’ brains are experiencing a lot of changes, and even small stressors trigger high emotions.
“I think it’s a lack of direction, mixed with the lack of appropriate freedom that causes a great deal of instability for most kids,” Byrne said. The fear, anxiety, sadness and anger then couple with this instability to produce varying reactions, depending on individual personalities.
“Some adolescents withdraw from others, some lash out at others and some actively seek the comfort of others,” Ebata said.
Although everyone handles stress differently, Ebata identified two major coping strategies that all adolescents should use. The first one is problem solving, learning to deal with a problem by changing the situation or getting rid of the problem rationally. Hinkle employs this strategy to alleviate tension, for example, calling on healthy habits like biking or lying in the sun.
“I never regret taking the time for myself whenever things start to accumulate,” she said. “Because I figure that I can either spend the time freaking out or combating the emotional burden and then getting back to work.”
Another help is learning to manage emotions, which can be helpful when you’re dealing with something that’s out of your control. It’s all about perspective. And Koehler takes on a positive perspective to deal with his ups and downs. “I deal with all this by looking forward. Knowing that one day I’ll be able to respect all the experience and hard times gives me some sort of hope,” he said.