So kids are more stressed out than parents think. That’s what the Stress in America survey showed by the American Psychological Association. Tweens and teens are reporting tell tale symptoms of stress such as headaches and poor sleep. What else? Kids worried about finances and their future. In tough economic times, who wouldn’t be soaking up the societal stress, too? And according to the report, the disconnect among what teens and parents report is pretty discrepant. Ok, Ok, there may be a reporting bias. Parents answering the survey probably wanted to give the right answers suggesting the positive health of their children; maybe the teens did, too (it's called social desirability). But for heaven's sake, when almost half of tweens and teens are indicating they are stressed out and only 1 of 10 parents see that, there seems to be a problem.
- Tweens (30%) and teens (42%) say they get headaches vs. 13% of parents
- Tweens (39 %) and teens (49%) cite difficulty sleeping vs. 13% of parents
- Tweens (27%) and teens (39%) report eating too much or too little vs. 8% of parents.
Now I remember not telling my mother much of anything once I was in high school; she just didn’t seem to get it. If anything, she complained that I stayed up too late doing homework and that I slept too much on weekends. She never understood why I had to have certain clothes or shoes… so I just up and got a job a soon as I could. (Jobs for teens these days?) So from a teen point of view - why bother explaining it all? That may be the sentiment of most teens, too. After all, they're trying to be more independent and manage things on their own. Even in a culture where parenting has become more causal and friend-like, teens are still carving out their private lives. Major kid stressors include school work and peer relationships. Easier to chock that up to normal adolescence, parental amnesia, or dismissal (“When I was kid things were much tougher.” “You don’t know how easy you have it.”) That parents underestimate the stress their children face is not all that surprising. But the degree of difference in perception is.
It calls for more education to help youth cope and learn ways to manage stress. It would help if parents could learn stress management skills and model them, too. Things like relaxation and downtime, deep breathing, considering alternative perspectives on a problem (cognitive reframing), taking a witnessing stance (rather than blame), practicing assertiveness and communication skills, and getting support. Helping parents understand the teen brain is key, too. Much more is known brain development that puts a lot of teen quirkiness into perspective. But here I am. I’ve been teaching mind-body skills to medical patients for many years and constantly say these are life skills. Why aren’t we teaching them early on?
There is plenty of research evidence that shows that health promotion and stress management programs work – for kids at risk due to social or economic circumstances, who have medical conditions, and suffer with anxiety or depressive symptoms. But all children need these skills. Such skills promote self-esteem and a sense of self-control – and could prevent the high risk taking that many teens engage in to either self-soothe, avoid stress, or feel connected (like substance use, disordered eating, early initiation of sexual behavior or dropping out of school, to name a few). I suppose the good news is that the last several Youth Behavior Risk Surveillance surveys show a decrease in high-risk behaviors that can lead to early death (more kids wear seat belts and less kids drink alcohol or binge), which suggests that prevention programs may be working. But there are many other symptoms that exist below the radar of extremes that don’t get much attention. Well, as we mind-body teachers say: Awareness is the first step.
Now take a deep breath.