The last time I wrote a session note for this blog/newsletter was in May so I am happy to be back and sharing with you what I am seeing on my private practice couch so that we can all learn together. This month I am seeing lots of teens under pressure! Whether it’s because of feeling behind in school, college applications, mask wearing, vaccinating, auditions and tryouts… kids are stressed

How Can I Help My Teen Feel Less Pressured?

Teens are feeling under pressure more so right now, maybe more than ever. Research shows that increases in reported pressure have been on the rise in day to day activities as well as the intense focus on the future. Teens say that in middle school the focus is on preparing for high school. In high school the focus is on college and in college the focus is on the rest of your life! 

I have wondered about this for many years now why we do this. It really starts in Pre-K- even the fact that we call it Pre-K alludes to that you are preparing for Kindergarten at age 4! I don’t remember this pressure as a child myself and given the rise in depression and anxiety it is clear that the focus on some metrics of success have driven us all to focus way too much on the future.

In a recent Pew research study, seven out of ten teens reported that depression and anxiety are a “major problem” in teens whether they felt personally affected by it or not. And when it came to the sources of pressure that teens feel #1 on that list are Academic Stressors, meaning getting good grades and getting into a “good” school. 

After academic pressures, fitting in socially, looking good and doing well in sports and activities rounds out the list of stressors for teens. Sadly, the teens who report that they want to go to college most especially feel the pressure to do well in school. These kids stack up AP classes, stay up late nights studying and walk around sleep deprived and hopped up on Starbucks. 

We also see gender differences in feeling pressure. Girls are significantly more likely to report anxiety as compared to boys. Girls’ anxiety ratings have been on the rise while boys’ reports have remained the same. One major factor in this is thought to be the negative impact that social media has on girls’ self esteem, body image, and perceived attractiveness and popularity.

So, as one parent bluntly asked me last week, what are parents supposed to do about this? It feels bigger than us…. I say actively think about how you are going to teach your teen to manage pressure. Add it to the conversations that need to be ongoing and need to be a part of your rotation of topics to discuss. In the car, at the dinner table, or at bedtime, find the time to connect and talk about these things. 

And when you do talk about consider these three tips:

  1. Check yourself – what are the messages that you are sending to your teen? Are you placing pressure on them? If so, is it undue pressure? Are you balancing setting high expectations (which is okay) with unrealistic demands (not so okay)?
  2. What do they want? – Do you actively talk to your teen about what their hopes and dreams are? Do you ask if they are still enjoying the activities and sports that they are in? Do you talk to them about their expectations of themselves?
  3. Focus on the present – support and encourage your child to act their age! I say there is no need to rush them, no need for them to always “get ahead.” There is much good that is done for a child, tween or teen who gets to be in the moment.

When I think about this pressure problem, I see kids who are simultaneously being pushed beyond reasonable limits paired with being protected so as to not get hurt or have to deal with adversity. I see how this problem started, (I believe with good parenting intentions), but is now a part of a serious mental health epidemic of teens with escalating levels of depression, anxiety and suicide. We can all play a role in shifting this value system that we have created into one that values mental wellness, childhood, play, and adversity as opportunity. 

Happy Parenting!

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