Teenagers these days are stressed out! So are we all. We’re short on sleep, overscheduled, and overstimulated. Here are the top 5 stressors my teen clients talk about:
1. Looking good: Teens don’t yet know what makes them unique and special. They haven’t established a career or any specific knowledge that gives them an identity. They’re receiving a general education in middle and high school, so there is very little that distinguishes them from their peers. As a result, many teenagers spend an extraordinary about of emotional energy on wanting to be the best looking of their peer group. Girls try to be thinner, and boys try to look stronger. Pimples are akin to a nuclear crisis. This is a regular source of stress for your teenager.
2. College: There is an incredible amount of pressure on Orange County teenagers to achieve in high school so they can get into a great university. The problem is, they really don’t have a concept of what makes a university great. They tend to just assume schools with prestige and difficult admission requirements are what defines their entire adult future. Please help your teenager avoid buying into this lie. Different colleges excel at different things. Your adolescent’s success in college has more to do with matching the right kind of school to their personality and values than anything else. For example, I have one client who is achieving very high grades in high school, but his personality is such that he flourishes in an environment where he is one of the top students. He would really struggle at a UCLA type school even though he could get in there. He’s intentionally choosing a much smaller private school for this very reason.
3. Sports: Playing sports is very good for teenagers. It’s really beneficial for them to get exercise, be around friends, and learn discipline. But, we have many teenagers who are forced to take sports a little too seriously. They have multiple hours of practice per day, private coaches, weekends dominated by travel and tournaments, and constant pressure to play at a very elite level. What is all this for? These teens are training like professional athletes, often at great financial and emotional expense, just to make a college team? It’s one thing if your teen is truly passionate about their sport, and you couldn’t keep them from practicing if you tried. It’s completely another thing if you’re the one pushing and they only “like” the sport. This kind of pressure ends up equating to stress. In fact, many teenagers confide in me during a counseling session that they actually hate being an intense athlete.
4. Social media: Without a doubt your teenager stresses about social media (if they use it). Adolescents are truly bothered every time they logon to Instagram and see several of their friends in a photo without them. They feel compelled to check their social media multiple times per day. They are bolstered or discouraged by comments made on their posts. They use social media as a means to compare themselves to others.
5. Homework: This one won’t surprise you. It likely caused you stress as a teenager too. Teenagers are assigned a lot of homework. It is stressful to be at school all day, and then have to come home and work on it for many more hours. Now that adolescents feel they have to take harder and harder classes to stand out, their homework load has become extremely burdensome.
Stress in small doses actually motivates us. It’s good to learn to manage stress. When your teenager becomes overly stressed though, they can be irritable, frustrated and anxious. Knowing some of the things that cause them anxiety can help you help them. One of the big skills you have to teach your child before he/she flies the coop is how to keep life in balance. Help your teenager know they simply cannot participate in, or be the best in everything.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT