04 Oct Teens Share What Stresses Them Out the Most
I have never been good at math. This fact became even more evident in my first semester of college. With a C in Algebra, I had to pull at least a B+ on my final exam. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t get into the International Business Program I had my heart set on.
I spent countless hours in the library studying and paid extra visits to my professor for help. Finally, after one particularly long Friday night in the library, I headed to my dorm.
Looking for someone to vent to, I headed for the room of a guy friend I’d met at the beginning of the semester.
Dropping my backpack onto the floor, I told him all about my stress. When I’d finished, he silently opened the bottom drawer on his desk. Glancing at the open door to make sure no one could hear him, he told me I could “borrow” an Adderall pill from the stash he bought from his roommate. Or, if I didn’t want that, he offered that I could also help myself to a beer in the back of his mini fridge to help with my stress.
Luckily, I refused both. The alcohol, because that just wasn’t my kind of thing. The pills, because I thought it would be unfair to the other students.
But not because I knew the cost of turning to those substances.
In fact, at that moment I was like many other teens. I had no idea that choosing to take my friend up on his offer could damage my life in the long run.
My parents had never told me that.
In fact, they had never told me much about what could happen if I chose to relieve my stress with substances. I don’t think they thought I’d ever be given that choice. As it turns out, many parents believe the same thing.
Research conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information has found that stress and anxiety among teens continue to grow. Their additional research also found that one of the primary reasons teens use substances is to feel better psychologically and that anxious or stressed teens are more likely to get addicted. So, while teens are desperately trying to cope, some parents simply think they’re overreacting.
The Case of Stress
So why the disconnect?
Some believe that one reason teens and parents aren’t clicking on the topic of stress and substance use is because the spike in teen stress is fairly recent.
A study from the American Psychological Association reported that most U.S. teens report higher levels of stress than adults.
More research from the National Survey of Children’s Health found that there was a 20% increase in anxiety diagnoses between 2007 and 2012.
And after analyzing MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) scores from 77,500 schools, Jean Twenge from San Diego State University discussed in a Washington Post article how she found that many teens had high levels in a lot of the mental health categories. Anxiety and stress were six times more common than they were in 1938.
How have we been making such huge leaps in the amount of stress young people are feeling? There are a lot of reasons a person could pick from.
When asked about what stressed them out, teens had varying answers. Many cited school, getting good grades to get into a good college and standardized tests. Others focused on responsibility at work and home. Others talked about falling short of expectations, failing in life and what they would do when they graduate high school. Some even mentioned social media.
These things have created a perfect storm of stress in many teens.
Some may argue that teenagers are experiencing an increased level of stress because of the amount of mental health awareness. But in a NY Times article on severe anxiety in American teens, Laurie Frakas, the former director of students at Northampton Public Schools in Massachusetts, explains that she’s seen a steady increase in anxious students.
Temple University Director of Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders Clinic Philip Kendall also mentions that teenagers today live in “an environment that is awaiting catastrophe.”
This is obvious when we look around. We can see our teens doing active shooter drills on a regular basis and we hear of teens who worry about going into movie theaters.
Additionally, social media presents itself as another dilemma for the stress level of teens. While social media will oftentimes give teenagers a feeling of connection, community and even control, it can create deeper problems. Comparison and cyberbullying run rampant across the internet for teenagers of all ages. This only adds to the stress they already feel.
The immense amount of stress and anxiety young people feel today shouldn’t be taken lightly. Especially with the way that many are choosing to cope with the stress they feel.
When teens choose to mix their stress with alcohol and or drugs, the results can be life-altering.
After a while, a teen can also develop a tolerance to various substances. This means that the next time they go to that substance, they’ll have to use more.
Spirals like this can lead teens into a scary cycle of alcoholism and addiction. This can also prevent them from developing healthy coping skills to fall back on when they become an adult.
There’s not a perfect formula to solve the amount of stress and anxiety teens are feeling. Parents can use several ways to help their teens along the way.
The first way is by talking. Parents should discuss healthy ways to combat stress early. Encouraging them to take study breaks, exercise or talk with someone they trust can help them lower their current stress levels. These practices can also help them develop healthy coping skills for adulthood.
Wellspring Prevention encourages that parents should also make sure they are listening to their teens. By giving teens a safe place to vent, you help them to feel heard. This, in turn, has the potential to let them know that they have value.
Going a step further, parents should make sure to assure the teens in their life that they have value as they are. With teens oftentimes feeling like as though they can never measure up, it’s important to help them know their worth.
Your student may not be offered vodka in the locker room at school or maybe they will. Either way, it’s important that every person knows the dangers of mixing stress with a substance.
That first semester of college, I left my friend’s dorm room and went back to studying.
Honestly, I didn’t think about my encounter after that. At least, not until I realized how scary my life might have become if I’d take him up on his offer for a grade on one test.