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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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