Teens & Tweens

When are teens and tweens stressed out? When they perceive threats to their well-being or think they can’t cope adequately with the demands being made on them. Many students feel overwhelmed by the need to excel in schoolwork and extracurricular activities to get accepted to college. Add the pressures of family life, staying healthy and fit, and navigating the complex adolescent social world. In addition, many teens and tweens suffer relatively minor stresses of brief illnesses, residential moves, school transfers, academic difficulties, interpersonal conflicts and disappointments, and so forth. Some experience even greater traumas of accidents, serious injuries, and family crises.

Stress Symptoms
Although some teens and tweens are able to identify and express their stress reactions, others manifest changes in their attitudes, personality, habits, and behavior:

  • acting irritable or moody
  • withdrawing from activities that used to give them pleasure
  • expressing worries
  • complaining more than usual about school
  • changes in eating habits (e.g., overeating, no appetite, more junk food)
  • changes in sleeping habits (e.g., trouble falling or staying asleep)
  • alcohol or drug use to self-medicate
  • significantly avoiding parents
  • abandoning long-term friendships for new sets of peers
  • excessive hostility toward family members
  • troubling concentrating and doing schoolwork

Prevalence of Stress
According to the American Psychological Association (APA)’s annual Stress in America survey, close to half of American teens report physical symptoms of stress—for example, headaches, sleep disturbances, and eating problems (either overeating or not eating enough):

  • Headaches – 42% of teens,30% of tweens
  • Sleep Disturbances – 49% of teens,39% of tweens
  • Eating Problems – 39% of teens, 27% of tweens.

Parents Underestimate Kids’ Suffering
Of young people who report physical symptoms, less than a third of their parents are aware that their children are suffering from stress-related problems. Specifically, only:

  • 13% of parents report their kids get stress headaches
  • 13% of parents say their kids have difficulty sleeping
  • 8% of parents report their kids eat too much or too little

What Teens and Tweens Say About Stress
After surveying 3000 middle school and high school students (75% girls and 25% boys) across the country and interviewing more than one hundred teens and tweens, I learned:

  • Girls are 55% more likely than boys to say that they put pressure on themselves to get good grades and do well in school.
  • Boys are generally less invested in school than girls; they feel less connected, are less likely to feel successful, and report fewer worries about college.
  • The majority of girls in middle school and high school report that they feel “too much” or “way too much” pressure to get good grades.
  • Less than half of this most pressured group believes their parents recognize their stress.
  • More than two-thirds of girls in middle school say they “usually” or “always” pressure themselves to succeed; by high school, that number rises to 75%
  • Nearly two-thirds of girls in middle school and high school report that the amount of homework they get is “too much” or “way too much.”
  • Almost two-thirds of girls in middle school and three-fourths of girls in high school believe the amount of free time they have is “too little” or “not nearly enough.”
  • In high school, 2/3 of girls “usually” or “always” worry about getting into the right college.
  • By middle school, more than one-third of girls say they “usually” or “always” worry about getting into the right college.
  • When asked about the one thing they would change to make school better, the vast majority of girls in middle school and high school say, “less stress,” “more sleep,” and “better relationships.”
  • These days, most teens and tweens tell me their number one stress is procrastination, fueled by the availability and seductiveness of Facebook and other social media.
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