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Your Child and Anxiety: School Stress Starts Early

Student Stress Starts Early. The Problem: Premature Pressure by Parents, Peers

Middle School continued...

"With teens, it is like pulling teeth to get them to talk. They just want to talk to friends," DeBord notes. "Finding time to talk with teens may mean going to the mall with them. Or lying down on the pillow next to them at bedtime. Find times when they can open up. Figure out how to open those conversations."

Bryant says it's a myth that teens can't have good relationships with their parents. Both she and DeBord insist that it's crucial for adolescents to be able to talk with adults.

"What they will want to talk about will surprise you," DeBord says. "It is heavy stuff -- family problems, sexuality, world peace. It could be that what's weighing on their minds is much heavier than what we think they want to discuss."

Teens are desperate to maintain good relationships with their peers -- but they also don't want to goof up, Bryant says.

"Stay with it in a kind, supportive way," she advises. "Express confidence that they can still carry their load at home. There is no quick, easy solution. Parenting in adolescence is more time-consuming than in elementary school. They need us there with clear boundaries. They need our lives to be stable and, to them, even boring. It says to them, 'As you go have your adventures, we are stable here.'"

High School

A major problem for many high-school students is their parent's single-minded devotion to getting them accepted by what their parents consider the best college.

"High-school students are very conscious of the need to present a profile to prospective colleges," Hall says. "They are told this by their counselors, by teachers, by their parents. It is a very intense focus. It is not just having good grades but it is taking part in significant extracurricular activities and even community service."

As in younger children, this stress can show up in poor grades and contrary behaviors. Older teens also often respond to stress by developing eating disorders or problems with alcohol/drug abuse. Know the signs and be prepared to address them.

"Look for a change in grade status, in attendance, tardiness, lack of responsiveness in the classroom or at home," says Hall. "Look for withdrawal into solitude or into one single contrary activity such as adopting strange music or a strange culture. Look for overuse or indulgence in the Internet, especially inordinate time spent in chat rooms. Any way a student might withdraw from normal exchange and enjoyment of other people can signal a problem."

The solution?

"As simple and trite as this may sound, we don't spend enough time being with and loving our children," Hall says.

As teens get older, parents become coaches rather than directors. The basics of communication, presence, and structure still apply. This is very important, especially as teens get their drivers' licenses and can go places you don't know about. A parent must give up some control -- which means that monitoring the child is more important than ever.

"When they are little we hope we have taught them to choose the right sock color. When they are older, we hope we have raised them to make decisions on how to be safe," DeBord says. "Teens are risk takers. As parents, our job is to monitor where they are and who they are with -- not in a hovering sense, but by checking in. There is a set checking-in time. And you still do have parameters on times they are coming in. This should take place on more of an adult level: you tell them where you are, and they tell you."

Reviewed on March 01, 2007

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