Ah, to be young again! The fun! The excitement! The stress! Wait … what? Stress? What in the world do young people have to be stressed about today?
As it turns out, a lot.
Grades. Relationships. Self-esteem. Peer pressure. Parental expectations. These are just some of the many things that young people — high school and college students in particular — struggle with on a daily basis. Add in the changing hormones and you've got a recipe for anxiety that can lead to crippling and harmful emotional issues.
The Facts Don’t Lie
Stress is a serious problem among young people today. The statistics are sobering:
- One out of every eight children suffers from an anxiety disorder (Anxiety and Depression Association of America)
- During the school year, the stress level of teenagers exceeds the level reported by adults (Stress in America™: Are Teens Adopting Adults’ Stress Habits?, conducted in Feb. 2014 by Harris Interactive Inc. for the American Psychological Association)
- Over the past 30 years, the overall rate of suicide among adolescents has tripled (Potomac State College)
- Colleges have seen an alarming increase in students seeking services for anxiety disorders (Anxiety and Depression Association of America)
- The average age of onset for many mental health conditions is 18 to 24 years old (Depression and Anxiety Among College Students, Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.)
- Seventy-five percent of all individuals with an anxiety disorder experience symptoms before age 22 (National Institute of Mental Health)
- Forty-five percent of college students binge drink and nearly 21 percent abuse prescription or illegal drugs (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) report, Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities)
Understanding The Causes of Stress
Stress in young people can come from any number of sources, one of which is their parents. Many high school and college students report feeling overwhelmed high expectations from their parents who want them to make it into the best colleges and land high-paying jobs after graduation. These parents are constantly monitoring and pushing their children to get good grades and excel in an increasingly competitive academic environment.
“A huge place I see stress in teens comes from the worry of their parents,” says Susan Chritton, executive career coach, personal brand strategist and senior content writer, MyPath101. “In many communities there is peer pressure among the parents to have high-achieving children. As a parent, I think one of the best things you can do to help your son or daughter is to not get caught in that achievement spiral yourself and just accept them for who they are, not who you or your community want them to be.”
Another source of stress is over-involvement. Young people today are busier than ever, with athletics, clubs, internships, volunteering and other extracurricular activities that take up every last bit of their free time.
Yet another is something that kids can’t seem to get enough of: social media. According to a TODAY series on the secret lives of teens anchored by Maria Shriver (Sept. 2014), many say that social media has actually complicated their lives and forced them “to pretend they're outgoing and having fun when the reality is much different.”
As a result of all this pressure, anxiety and depression caused by stress have become serious problems in schools across the country. Some young people turn to alcohol; others to illegal drugs or other self-destructive behaviors like cutting.
Adjusting to college life is another major cause of stress among students. Heading off to school, many students feel overwhelmed by the unfamiliar surroundings and people leading to a loss in a sense of security of the identity they had created for themselves in high school (Tartakovsky, 2008). It’s a transition that many find difficult to handle.
Helping Young People Deal
So how do you know if a student is suffering from stress? It’s not always easy to recognize, since many try to hide it out of shame or embarrassment. The key is to look for warning signs. Are they avoiding normal activities like school, work, or sports? Do they seem quieter than usual? Withdrawn? Such changes in behavior can be a warning sign that a young person is dealing with anxiety.
If you suspect a student is suffering from stress and anxiety, it’s imperative you do what you can to help. You can’t just assume that they’ll seek help on their own. After all, according to Stress in America™: Are Teens Adopting Adults’ Stress Habits? (Harris Interactive Inc., Feb. 2014), close to half of teens (42 percent) are not doing enough or are not sure if they are doing enough to manage their stress; furthermore, more than 1 in 10 (13 percent) say they do nothing about it.
A good resource for understanding how to help young people deal with anxiety is the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). Some of their tips include listening carefully and respectfully to the person’s concerns, helping them understand that anxiety is a natural part of adolescence, and showing your support when they choose to take part in new activities. Of course, if their anxiety is prolonged (more than 6 months), they recommend consulting a professional.
Stress and anxiety are just normal parts of childhood and development. They key is to keep it to a minimum. And, of course, with the proper support and treatment as needed, any young person can learn how to effectively manage stress and live a normal, productive life.