Stress and anxiety in children and teenagers are just as prevalent as in adults. Stressed out and negligent parents, high expectations in academic or other performances, abused or deprived childhood, growing up tensions and demand for familial responsibility are the main causes of childhood and teen stress. Parents, who are not emotionally available for their children or lack positive coping mechanisms themselves, often spur stress in their offspring.
Stressed children show signs of emotional disabilities, aggressive behavior, shyness, social phobia and often lack interest in otherwise enjoyable activities. Research tells us that children, who are forced to live on prematurely adult levels, sometimes become oppositional to following the parents’ rules (or those of society). Such children tend to respond to stressors with aggression and indignation.
Many teenagers tend to become nonconformists and fall prey to teenage depression in response to a variety of growing up anxieties. However, stress induced fears and anxiety in children adversely affect children’s performances at various levels.
‘Points to Follow’ for Both Children and Parents:
• Talk with your child. Find out what’s happening in his life. Be honest and open with him. He should talk about his problems or write them down. Teach him to transfer coping strategies to other situations.
• Don’t burden them with your problems. But, tell children about the family’s goals and discuss difficulties in a friendly manner.
• Compliment children when they do well, and don’t forget hugs and kisses.
• Use humor to buffer bad feelings and situations. A child who learns to use humor himself will be better able to keep things in perspective.
• Don’t overload your child with too many after-school activities and responsibilities. Let children learn to pace themselves. Don’t enroll them in every class that comes along, and don’t expect them to be first in everything.
• Set a good example. Demonstrate self-control and coping skills. He can benefit by seeing how you cope successfully with stress.
• Get friends’ or professional help when problems seem beyond your skills.
Growing up can be a difficult experience for both males and females. During this period, rapid physical transitions necessitate transition in a child’s mental make-up, its attitude towards people and circumstances. Children are often ill equipped to cope with stress during these transitions from a child to pre-adolescence, and from pre-adolescence to adolescence phases.
For pre-adolescents and teens, an identity crisis, the perils of peer interaction, acceptance and rejection of—situations, persons and ideas—are a constant source of teen stress and teenage depression. “Where do I stand?” and “How do I compare to others?” are key concerns for this age group. Choices about drinking, smoking, drugs and sex, along with fears about violence, are common stressors.
How Teen Stress Can Be Relieved
• The first step for parents is to be aware of possible stressors and to recognize signs of stress.
• Be sensitive to changes in your children’s behavior and respond to them.
• Provide opportunities for them to learn stress management techniques.
• Have reasonable expectations and set manageable goals in academic and extra curricular fields.
• When you are under extra stress, be sure that you are not passing it along to your child.
• Physical exercise and sports are good stress reducers, provided there is not a debilitating level of competition, pressure to perform or fear of failure.
• Encourage relationships with extended family members, friends and helpful neighbors. Just knowing there is someone else to turn to share their feelings can be relieving for children.
• Spending time together or having a few good laughs together goes a long way in reducing stress and in building solid family relationships.
Stress in Student Life
Student-life coincides with adolescence, and stress can manifest in children as a reaction to the changes in life in addition to academic pressures. Children become more self-aware and self-conscious, and their thinking becomes more critical and complex. At the same time, children often lack in academic motivation and performance, as their attention is divided among a lot many things, especially creating an identity for themselves.
Points That Cause Stress in Students:
• Stress is created by parental pressure to perform and to stand out among other children. When they can’t rise up to that expectation, or during the process of meeting it, children may suffer from frustration, physical stress, aggression, undesirable complexes, and depression.
• Students who are under-performers, develop negative traits such as shyness, unfriendliness, jealousy, and may retreat into their own world to become loners.
• Over scheduling a student’s life can put them under stress. A child’s in school and after school activities should be carefully arranged to give them some breathing space. Parents may want him to learn music, painting, or be outstanding in a particular sport. So many things are crammed in to their schedule, unmindful (often) of the children’s choices and capabilities that it puts a lot of mental pressure on them in an effort to fulfill their parents’ wishes.
• School systems cram students with a tremendous amount of homework, which they usually have to complete spending their evenings, weekends and most of the vacations. Unable to find enough time of their own, students often lose interest in studies and under perform. They often feel stress by being asked to do too much in too little a time.
•Teenage depression or growing up tensions add to the academic pressures. If unable to adapt to the transition and change, students often carry enormous amount of anxiety, negative personal traits and can suffer from massive attention problems.
• When ‘effortless’ learning does not take place, these students lose confidence, motivation and interest, and this creates more stress.
Another major student stressor is perhaps the middle school malaise, which refers to the physio-psychological transition of students from elementary to junior high school.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have studied this transition from elementary to middle school and have found that:
• On average, children’s grades drop dramatically during the first year of middle school compared to their grades in elementary school.
• After moving to junior high school, children become less interested in school and less self-assured about their abilities.
• Compared to elementary schools, middle schools are more controlling, less cognitively challenging and focus more on competition and comparing students’ abilities.
What Can Help
• Encourage students to try new things, learn new skills
• Tell them that it is OK to fail
• Teach them that learning takes effort, time and practice
Many psychologists, who research on ‘childhood and education’, believe that an important cause of stress is how children think about their own intelligence and abilities. If a child thinks of his or her intelligence as fixed—”I’m either this dumb or this smart”—he or she will avoid tasks that challenge their ability or risk failure. Instead, they choose to work on problems that they already know how to solve.