We may look at kids and teenagers and wish we were their age again, with no worries, good health and a life filled with happiness. Sadly, while things look great from the other side, the lives of kids and teens are actually more stressful than you can imagine. In fact, there are numerous studies and surveys that find that teens report being more stressed than adults and that anxiety levels are on the rise among younger individuals.
What could be contributing to this negative trend? School and the rising standards for admissions into decent colleges seem to play a major role. But social issues, such as fitting in with the crowd, are certainly important players as well. When we look at the way the world has changed in the past couple of decades, it’s easier to understand why stress levels among teens and kids are on the rise.
The Rise of Stress Levels Among Kids and Teens
There are a countless number of sources providing evidence that kids and teens today are more stressed than ever before.
According to a 2013 study, during the school year, teens report having higher stress levels than do adults. What is worrisome is that these high stress levels have a significant impact on physical and mental health. Yet, teens are more likely than adults to report that their stress levels have little impact on their health. The statistics, however, show otherwise.
Young people in America are experiencing higher rates of depression and anxiety than ever before. In fact, 5 to 8 times as many high school and college students today meet the criteria for diagnosis of major depression and/or anxiety disorder than did those 50 years ago. Stress also affects sleep and eating patterns, with teens reporting much less sleep than the recommended amount and 39% of teens reporting that they skip a meal at least once a week due to stress.
Of course, suicide is another major problem caused by stress. Sadly, suicide has consistently been the 3rd leading cause of death among children aged 10 to 14 for the past decade in the United States. In 2005, there were 270 reported deaths and in 2013, this number rose to 386.
Possible Causes for an Increase in Stress Pt.1
There are many possible causes for the pattern of stress that has been seen recently. However, there are 3 main factors that seem to play roles.
According to many studies, school is listed as the main cause of stress among kids and teens. In fact, one survey found that 83% of teens said that school is a significant source of stress, with the majority of stress occurring during the school year as opposed to during the summer months.
What stresses them out about school? Schoolwork and social issues seem to be the top reasons. It makes sense with the amount of homework kids get and the rising standards for admissions into a decent college. With a rising number of students that apply to college, teenagers these days are faced with the challenge of not only maintaining a stellar GPA but also being involved in extra-curricular activities to make their application shine among a pile of thousands. Of course, they want to do well in school but they also want to fit in. Just as many youth worry about having friends and being judged as they do about schoolwork.
How does this stress affect teenagers and kids? Headaches, loss of appetite and upset stomach are some of the symptoms of stress reported by teens.
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Possible Causes for an Increase in Stress Pt.2
Teens’ lives are practically put on display on social media and that’s what their peers use to form opinions about them. For many kids and teens, popularity online is just as important as popularity in the real world. This is double the social pressure that older generations without social media faced.
And with the increasing number of social media platforms, there is increasing stress and anxiety. Yes, “social media anxiety” is an actual phrase that was coined during the digital age and while it may not be recognized as a disorder yet, it just might be soon. Kids and teens feel tremendous pressure to be popular and display their popularity through the amount of followers they have online and the amount of likes their selfie acquires. It’s a competitive digital world out there.
The problem is that what happens in the digital world doesn’t stay in the digital world. Social media is affecting kids and teens in very real ways. According to a study conducted by Woods and Scott, the more teens used social media and the more that they cared about their online presence, the greater their risk for impaired sleep, poor self-esteem, depression and/or anxiety.
But there’s also another major problem that arose with the advent of social media: cyberbullying. It makes sense that more kids feel more stressed these days because the amount of bullying has increased. In the past, individuals were typically bullied at school. Now, they may be bullied wherever they go, as long as they have internet access. Cyberbullying can include posting negative comments on someone’s pictures or harassing them through public posts and private messages. According to a study mentioned in The Washington Post, 9 out of 10 teenagers reported witnessing cruelty by their peers on social media.
It may seem easier to bully someone when you’re hiding behind a screen. But, cyberbullying has all the effects of real-life bullying, if not more. For example, in an instant, hundreds of people may see a negative online post about an individual. With increasing social media platforms and exposure, it is no surprise that the number of suicides linked with cyberbullying has increased among youth in recent years.
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Possible Causes for an Increase in Stress Pt.3
With an increasing number of divorces and broken families, it makes sense that family issues are another main factor of stress in kids and teenagers. In fact, 20% of all children will experience divorce by the age of 16, double the amount seen less than half a century ago. Children of divorced or separated parents are, unfortunately, given the stressful task of often switching between homes, listening to arguments and watching their parents’ attitudes and behaviors change due to emotional and financial distress.
The death of a loved one, severe illness in the family, busy parents and financial issues are other causes of stress for teenagers and kids. Having an illness in the family may break a teen’s heart as much as it would an adult’s. Financial issues may affect kids and teens because their family may not be able to afford the latest fashion trends and gadgets used to communicate with friends. This can affect youth because it makes them feel like they’re missing out.
Another thing to take into consideration is that modern parents spend less time with their children than ever before. Whereas in the past, mothers typically stayed at home to look after the house and kids, an increasing number of modern mothers have careers that cause them to be apart from their families for most of the day. This can take a toll on children, especially very young ones.
Tips to Decrease Stress
There are numerous ways to decrease stress. Targeting the things that cause stress and decreasing them is one obvious way to deal with stress. For example, if social media contributes to an increase in anxiety, teens should limit their use of social media. Parents should also set a time at which kids should turn off all their social media applications so that it doesn’t affect their sleep.
Kids and teens may also exercise regularly to reduce their stress levels. Exercise helps fight stress because it pumps up the endorphins, a neurotransmitter in the brain which elevates mood. Youth are also encouraged to practice relaxation techniques such as abdominal breathing. In addition, decreasing negative self-talk and avoiding comparison with their peers are other good ways to reduce stress. Parents can also help their children to manage their stress by listening to them and supporting them.