Teens are stressed out -- but parents haven't noticed

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  November 16, 2009 09:42 AM

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A new survey by the American Psychological Association says that teenagers are more stressed out than ever before. But their parents, for the most part, haven't noticed.

According to the survey, which was released Nov. 3, pressure at school and financial problems at home have had a greater impact on high school-age kids than parents believe.

Forty-four percent of teens said they under pressure to do well at school, but just 34 percent of parents think their kids feel that way, the survey showed. Thirty percent of teenagers surveyed said they were worried about their family's financial situation, while only 18 percent of parents thought that their kids were stressed about it.

Teens were also more likely than their parents to report that their stress levels had increased in the past year; 45 percent of teens age 13 to 17 said that they worried more this year, while only 28 percent of their parents said that they thought their teens were feeling more stress. Parents who were surveyed also tended to downplay the severity of their teenagers' stress, with less than 5 percent rating their child's stress as extreme, compared to 28 percent of teens who felt they were severely stressed.

And, as it does with adults, stress seems to be taking a physical toll on our teens. They report having headaches, difficulty sleeping, and changes in appetite -- which seems to come as a surprise to their parents. While 49 percent of teens said they find it hard to sleep because of stress, only 13 percent of parents observed it in their kids.

The APA’s executive director for professional practice, Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, says “It’s clear that parents do not fully appreciate the impact that stress is having on their kids" and that parents' reactions to their kids' stress levels are in line with earlier research about parental perceptions of teen behavior. "Parents often under report drug use, depression and sexual activity in their children. Now it appears the same may be true for stress.”

I also have to wonder how much of the disparity is because we, as parents, are so consumed by our own stress that we forget how it felt to be a teen. You couldn't pay me enough to go through adolescence again; as far as I'm concerned, those were not my salad days. Sure, the pressure to fit in at school may seem small now, but if you think about it, how much time and energy and money do we spend following trends and wooing friends as adults? To a teen, acing a test is as stressful as facing an in-depth performance evaluation at the office. And, as for the economy... of course they notice what we're up against. While we're stressing about how we'll manage with less money, or kids are worrying about the same thing.

Parents of older children, please weigh in: Are your teens and tweens stressed out? Do you think our stress is rubbing off on our kids?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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5 comments so far...
  1. Where is the report on middle-schoolers? Their days are packed; not all districts (such as mine) require gym - both for good physical health and for stress-busters. Heck, my child doesn't even have recess. "Walking to and from classes is the equivalent of recess," the School District says.

    She comes home crying because there's no break during the day. Lunch is hurried.

    All because of? MCAS prep! The lovely exam, cutting into break time, making break time non-existent.

    High schools should certainly have open campus, so the children get some down time during their long, stressful days.

    As for the unaware parents - talk to your kids, every day.

    Click through the link in the post above to get more data form the survey -- the stress levels among tweens were nearly as high, and the awareness levels among their parents just as low, unfortunately. - LMA

    Posted by reindeergirl November 16, 09 02:11 PM
  1. I do know how stressed my son is--he's 11 and in middle school, and highly verbal and forthright about all that's on his mind. Hours of homework every night, weekends devoted to elaborate projects, no recess, gym only twice a week...and that's just the academic side. There's social pressure to contend with and puberty too...of course it's stressful! What are we as parents supposed to do? Perhaps that would have been a more helpful bent to the article.

    Posted by stressed mom of stressed kid November 17, 09 12:22 PM
  1. I went to a top high school 25 years ago, and my son's 8th grade curriculum is as demanding as my senior year of high school relative to the amount of homework and complexity of material. Teens' brains are still developing, and in my view not able to keep up with the social and academic demands. I know many parents will say "that's the real world, and they need to learn how to live in it." The real world is also accelerating in terms of drug and alcohol use, obesity, divorce rates..all biproducts in one form or another of stress.

    Posted by Acton mom November 17, 09 01:10 PM
  1. Although MCAS is certainly a contributor to our kids' stress, I really think we as a society in general is to blame. You can start right out with Baby Einstein and this seeming push to make sure our kids are the best and the brightest and it extends right into schools where every kid is "gifted" and sports where excessive competition starts in Kindergarten. Stress!

    In addition, we buy our kids everything to make sure they fit in. Our lower middle class school is filled with tweens wearing Northface Jackets ($150), Uggs ($150), carrying coach bags and playing with their Itouches ($299) and texting on the latest phones. How can the typical family that is fighting 10% umemployment keep up with that? Stress!

    I'm glad I"m not a tween/teen.


    Posted by Jayne November 17, 09 07:59 PM
  1. I’ve been visiting your blog for a while now and I always find a gem in your new posts. Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by crottcymmed July 8, 11 01:43 PM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. Where is the report on middle-schoolers? Their days are packed; not all districts (such as mine) require gym - both for good physical health and for stress-busters. Heck, my child doesn't even have recess. "Walking to and from classes is the equivalent of recess," the School District says.

    She comes home crying because there's no break during the day. Lunch is hurried.

    All because of? MCAS prep! The lovely exam, cutting into break time, making break time non-existent.

    High schools should certainly have open campus, so the children get some down time during their long, stressful days.

    As for the unaware parents - talk to your kids, every day.

    Click through the link in the post above to get more data form the survey -- the stress levels among tweens were nearly as high, and the awareness levels among their parents just as low, unfortunately. - LMA

    Posted by reindeergirl November 16, 09 02:11 PM
  1. I do know how stressed my son is--he's 11 and in middle school, and highly verbal and forthright about all that's on his mind. Hours of homework every night, weekends devoted to elaborate projects, no recess, gym only twice a week...and that's just the academic side. There's social pressure to contend with and puberty too...of course it's stressful! What are we as parents supposed to do? Perhaps that would have been a more helpful bent to the article.

    Posted by stressed mom of stressed kid November 17, 09 12:22 PM
  1. I went to a top high school 25 years ago, and my son's 8th grade curriculum is as demanding as my senior year of high school relative to the amount of homework and complexity of material. Teens' brains are still developing, and in my view not able to keep up with the social and academic demands. I know many parents will say "that's the real world, and they need to learn how to live in it." The real world is also accelerating in terms of drug and alcohol use, obesity, divorce rates..all biproducts in one form or another of stress.

    Posted by Acton mom November 17, 09 01:10 PM
  1. Although MCAS is certainly a contributor to our kids' stress, I really think we as a society in general is to blame. You can start right out with Baby Einstein and this seeming push to make sure our kids are the best and the brightest and it extends right into schools where every kid is "gifted" and sports where excessive competition starts in Kindergarten. Stress!

    In addition, we buy our kids everything to make sure they fit in. Our lower middle class school is filled with tweens wearing Northface Jackets ($150), Uggs ($150), carrying coach bags and playing with their Itouches ($299) and texting on the latest phones. How can the typical family that is fighting 10% umemployment keep up with that? Stress!

    I'm glad I"m not a tween/teen.


    Posted by Jayne November 17, 09 07:59 PM
  1. I’ve been visiting your blog for a while now and I always find a gem in your new posts. Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by crottcymmed July 8, 11 01:43 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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