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Helping Teens Cope with Academic School Stress

Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point. Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point.
Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One thing all adolescents have in common is that at some point or another school stresses them out.  They are given an assignment that really stretches them, or have to make a certain grade on a final exam to get a passing grade in a class.  Every kid runs up against a class where they don’t understand the material and feels completely lost.  Middle school and high school can be a huge challenge for your kids.

 

Here are 5 tips to help your teenager cope with school stress:

  1. Help them keep the big picture in mind.  A high school grade or class doesn’t in any way define who they are as a person.  The effort they make, and the ability to cope with challenges does define them.  That’s where your focus needs to be as a parent.
  2. Give them guidance on how to seek out the help they need.  As your teenager gets older and older, you should do less and less of the actual calling/emailing teachers and tutors for them.  Help them find the information they need to seek out help, but get them to do it themselves because that also builds character.
  3. Help them learn to break problems into small pieces.  If your teen is given a 10 page research paper, then it’s your job to help them learn to break it down.  Help them make a check-list of steps that get the paper done.  Kids who learn to patiently outline papers, research carefully, write a draft, edit their draft, and then turn in their papers get better grades.  They also learn huge life skills about time management and planning.
  4. Help your teenagers learn to pace themselves slowly.  A teen who studies consistently for a couple hours per day is a better student than one who studies in spurts.  It’s hard for teens to learn that there are days when they have no homework assignments, but they should still be working on school.  If they take the time to work when there’s no work assigned, then they can stay ahead a little bit.  This reduces future stress.
  5. Learn to study in groups.  It makes it more fun, and it makes it easier to stick with it for longer.  If your child is stressed about how to handle a difficult class, one of the best things they can do is get together with a few of their friends who also have the class.  Different students understand different parts of the material.  If they work together they can help each other learn.

 

The bottom line is that school is overwhelming sometimes.  It gets to every student from the 2.0 student to the 4.0 student.  One of the best things you can do is to help your adolescent have a strategy.  Recognize that teenagers aren’t always great at carrying out their strategies, so you will have to gently help them stay on track.  It’s also important for you to recognize the limits of your child’s abilities.  If your teen is working as hard as they can and getting a 2.5 GPA, then don’t push them to be a 3.5 student; they will start to feel like you are never satisfied with them.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Contentedness and the High Achiever

Being a contented teen is a learned skill. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being a contented teen is a learned skill.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do you have a high achieving teen?  Awesome!  It’s so nice for those of you who parent teenagers that compulsively do all their homework, keep up in sports or other extra-curricular activities, and generally try to do the right thing.

These are also usually the kids who have a touch more anxiety than their peers.  Sometimes they have quite a bit more anxiety.  Teaching them to be content (but not complacent) is a tough task.

Contentedness means having gratitude for the gifts God has given you.  It means being thankful for the body you have, your status in life, the family you have, and the friends you’ve made.  It means knowing where you are naturally more talented, and not being mired in disappointment over the areas where you’re not.  If you are a great athlete, but struggle in school, you embrace this.  It doesn’t mean you quit trying in school, it just means you accept that it’s tough for you.  It means you seek extra help when needed.  It also means you don’t resent people that find school easy.

For the parent of a high achiever, you have a huge challenge.  If your adolescent is the “typical” high achiever, then he or she expects to be the best at everything.  Your son expects to be the best athlete, student, more popular, etc.  Your daughter expects to be in the best shape, get accepted to the best college, and have straight A’s.  Anything less causes your teenager to feel inadequate and frustrated.

Help your teen know their strengths.  Help them develop those strengths.  Help your teen accept natural weaknesses.  Teach your teen over and over again that most people are good at a few things, bad at a few things, and average at everything else.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

When I see teenage clients in therapy who are struggling with anxiety, the first thing I assess is how well they are functioning in life.  If they are accomplishing a lot, but still not happy, we begin to work on gratitude and contentment.  I use the counseling process to help them continue to cultivate their drive for success, but with a different motive.  Instead of comparing to others and then feeling less than, I want the teen to appreciate their exceptional abilities, average abilities and weaknesses.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

5 Things That Raise Your Teen’s Anxiety

Being too busy is overwhelming and causes anxiety. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stress is overwhelming for teens.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

These are in random order:

1. The news:  Your teenagers are susceptible to the scare tactics used by the media just as much as everyone else.  What I mean by scare tactics is that bad news and anxiety cause people to  continue watching the news.  In my office I have worked with many a terrified teenager after they read about a school shooting thousands of miles away, or the war on terror, etc.  The 24 hour news cycle about COVID-19 is sending many of your kids into panic.

2. Problems with friends:  Friends are your teenager’s world.  As a parent you likely have enough perspective to realize things will iron out.  However, for your adolescent, when things are off balance with friends their whole world seems upside down.

3. Pressure to get good grades:  This is a constant source of anxiety for just about every teenager I see in my office.  Most teenagers feel they need to do better than they are doing, even when they have a 3.5 or 4.0 GPA.  Help your teen set reasonable goals and then be satisfied when these are reached.  Help them remember there’s only one valedictorian each year.

4. Parents expressing disappointment:  Your teenager might act as though he or she doesn’t care that you are disappointed in something they did.  This couldn’t be father from the truth.  Every teenager I’ve ever worked with wants their parents to approve of him or her.  However, if they don’t know how to get this approval, or if they perceive you as being regularly critical, they are more stressed.

5. Dating:  Navigating the world of dating and sexuality is very challenging for a teenager.  Whether they are painfully shy and hardly allow themselves to have a crush, or are dating constantly and sexually active, this causes stress for adolescents.  It’s really important to help your teen make wise dating choices during their adolescence.  Keep in mind that if they aren’t getting help from you, they’re getting it from other teenagers.  Who is more likely to give good advice?  So, please don’t put your head in the sand and please don’t forbid dating.  That only causes your teenagers to sneak.  Instead put good boundaries around dating and monitor it as best you can.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious

Every teen feels concerned with what others think, especially about looks. This can’t be helped. It’s part of human nature.

This week I felt like a teenager because of a big, crazy set of stitches on my lip that look like a really bad cold sore. Everywhere I went it felt like people were starting and were grossed out. Watch this video and see for yourself what ultimately happened.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Help for school anxiety

Dreading school can make life miserable for a teenager. Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dreading school can make life miserable for a teenager.
Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For some teenagers, school is exciting.  They cannot wait to see friends, and really don’t even mind being in class.  If you’re reading this though, that is probably not your kid.

For a lot of adolescents, Monday is the worst day of the week.  Going to school is terrifying.  This can be for different reasons.  For some kids the pressure of homework, tests, and getting up early is overwhelming.  For most teenagers though, the anxiety associated with school is social.  It is hard for some teens to imagine that anyone will be excited to see them.  All they can picture is either being teased, or being ignored as the other kids excitedly greet one another.

As a parent who loves your kid, and most likely thinks the world of your kid, what do you do?  When you see their heart breaking because they just don’t feel comfortable or confident, it breaks your heart too.  We all revert to one of two attempts to help our children.

The first thing you might be doing is trying to solve it.  You might be telling your child how to make more friends (or how to offend less people depending on your perspective).  You might say things like, “Just walk in smiling.  That always makes a person more attractive to others.”  You might offer to let your kid have a party, or you might buy your teen the latest clothing trends.  Realistically though, are you making a huge impact in this way?  Your children’s feelings on the inside won’t have changed much, and this reflects outwardly to the other students.

The second approach might be to diminish your teenager’s concerns.  You might tell them things like, “I bet more people like you than you think.”  You might also tell them they are imagining it, etc.  Here you are near the right track, although not quite on it.  You need your teenager to be the one who says, “You know, I bet more people like me that I realize,” instead of you telling them.  How in the world do you accomplish this?

The techniques I’m going to offer you aren’t foolproof, but they’re worth a try.  Firstly, try telling a story about yourself at that age.  Make sure it’s a story where you felt similarly.  If the end of the story is that you were better liked than you realized, then include that.  However, don’t make it up.  If the end of the story is that you really weren’t very well liked in high school, leave it there.  At the very minimum your child will feel understood; that is primarily what they are seeking when they talk with you about school related anxiety.  This will help them to feel a little better because they will know they are not alone.

The next thing you can try is having your teenager examine the facts.  Tell them, “We are going to look at both sides of this and then come to a conclusion.”  Have them first tell you hard evidence that proves they are correct in their assuming people don’t like them at school.  Do not allow things like, “I just know it,” or “Jennie likes Carmen better than me now.”  Next make your teenager tell you why they are liked.  Believe me, unless your child smells, is rude or never brushes their teeth, someone is friendly toward them.

If the anxiety stretches beyond basic nervousness, also consider getting a little extra help.  Counseling tends to work very well on school-related anxiety.  You can always start with what’s free.  Put a call in to your teen’s school counselor.  If you’re not comfortable with that, or the school counselor doesn’t help, then it’s probably time to call a licensed therapist.

It is my hope your teen has an amazing school year.  I hope they learn in the classroom, and grow as an individual.  Every year is a new chance for your child to blossom.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman