Teen Stress-Could Parents Be Some of The Cause?
As parents, we all want better for our children. But what constitutes better? Today’s parents believe that better means availability to excel in everything. Today’s teens have access to technology that we only dreamed of. Many have the opportunity to play on various travel ball teams and/or have private lessons in their chosen sport. Also, many junior high students take the ACT in order to improve their chances of acceptance into the college of their choice. Each of the above are perceived as advantages provided to children. But are they? Could these so-called advantages produce teen stress that parents do not or are unwilling to accept?
When my sons were younger, sometimes I watched other parents at my sons’ games. Some of the children were not allowed to enjoy themselves because so many parents pressured their kids. In my hypocrisy, I judged them, and at times, got angry because “those” parents would not let their kids just enjoy the game.
Well, now that I am older and somewhat wiser, I realize that the frustration and anger I felt towards “those” parents was misdirected. My anger needed to be directed at myself. I was the parent who pushed her children to excel in everything. Every time I pushed, I did so with their best interest in mind—or so I thought. When my then three-year-old daughter began a gymnastic class, it was because I was a good mother. When I let her play biddy basketball, even though the ball was bigger than she, I just gave her an advantage. In my mind, my actions did not compare to the actions of other parents. It never occurred to me that I could possibly emotionally hurt my children.
Just so the reader can identify with me, below is a small description of how horribly I treated my children. My eldest son excelled in sports and received an offer to play college football. I was and still am extremely proud of his athletic accomplishments. One would think I required no more from him. However, that was not the case; I also wanted him to be the best academically. I complained that his grades were not good enough even though he graduated with a 3.75 and an ACT score that paid full tuition. I convinced myself that at graduation he would love to sit on the front row with all the other 4.0 students. But in reality, he did not care about sitting on the front row. His only concern was to graduate, to attend college, and to play football at the next level. Today, I am totally ashamed about the undue pressure and stress I placed upon him and realize that it was I who wanted the 4.0, the higher ACT score, and the chance to see my son in the front row. To my eldest son, I am so sorry.
Unfortunately, I was not any better when it came to raising my second son. He accomplished the grades I wanted for my first son. He will graduate this May with a 4.0, a 31 ACT composite, and college paid for. Well, one could assume that I was content during his high school, but surprise, I was not. When he entered high school, he decided that he did not want to play football and baseball any longer. What?!! No way would I let that happen because I knew he really did not want to stop playing those two sports—he just thought he did. What made my actions of trying to force him to continue in sports even more deplorable was that this son is truly blessed in voice and music. Many in our area noticed his talent while he was in elementary. Today, most people know of his talent because he is invited to sing at various community, school and church activities. But instead of allowing my son to follow his dreams, I tried to force what I thought was best upon him. To my second son, I am so sorry.
The fact that I pushed my ideas of what my boys should accomplish onto them was unfair. “There’s a little fallacy that we have to enrich our children’s experience with every kind of lesson and every kind of sport and every kind of club, and that backfires at a certain point,” said Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and author of the New York Times best-seller “Emotional Intelligence,” “Parents who want the best for their kids get into trouble when it becomes like “over-wanting,” said Ben Bernstein, a stress psychologist and author of “A Teen’s Guide to Success: How to be Calm, Confident & Focused” as well as a book about stress-reduction techniques for tests.
Well, I am now raising a junior high little girl. Thankfully, I learned from the mistakes I made with my sons, and I approach situations differently. She is told that in everything, her father and I only want her to try her best. We do not require her to maintain the principal’s list or to play on numerous sports teams, but yet she places stress upon herself and does both. She is told not to stress about her grades, her position on the team, or her relationships with her friends, but my efforts are to no avail. The more I try to de-stress her, the more she seems to become stressed. Now that I understand how unfair I was to my boys, I am determined to be a better mother to my daughter; however, I find myself in a totally different situation, and I feel as if I am failing again.
Since dealing with a junior high little girl is a new experience, I researched the topic of pre-teen girls and stress. I discovered that my daughter and I are not the only mother-daughter duo experiencing this dilemma. According to Roni Cohen-Sandler, Phd., “Girls believe that to be successful, they have to be extraordinary in every area of their lives: academic, social, extracurricular, and appearance.” As a mother, I learned it does not matter how much I tell my daughter that she does not have to be extraordinary, she still pressures herself to be.
Based on the research conducted, I believe one of the biggest stressors for our daughters is social media. The technology we so readily place in our little girls’ hands is not an advantage. They struggle to make their reality equivalent to what “appears” to be their friends’ reality. If they discover they are left out of a group chat, they believe the lie that no one likes them anymore. Instead of social media bringing girls happiness, this media is a constant reminder of everything they believe they want to achieve and have yet to do so. The exposure to “Highly idealized representations of peers on social media elicits feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier, more successful lives” (Chowdhry). Also, Daniel Goleman says, “All the social media and advanced technology mean more distractions for kids and today’s kids have no down time to unwind.”
There is no simple answer when it involves helping your child manage his/her stress, but experts agree on the following. First, parents need to look for warning sings displayed by their child. “The key is to identify your child’s physical behavioral or emotions signs before he is on overload. A clue is to look for behaviors that are not typical for your child” (Borba).
Physical Stress Signs
- Headache, neck aches and backaches
- Nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomachache, vomiting
- Shaky hands, sweaty palms, feeling shaky, lightheadedness
- Trouble sleeping, nightmares
- Change in appetite
- Frequent colds, fatigue
Emotional or Behavior Stress Signs
- New or reoccurring fears; anxiety and worries
- Trouble concentrating; frequent daydreaming
- Restlessness or irritability
- Social withdrawal, unwilling to participate in school or family activities
- Moodiness; sulking; or inability to control emotions
- Nail biting; hair twirling; thumb-sucking; fist clenching; feet tapping
- Acting out, anger, aggressive behaviors such as tantrums, disorderly conduct
- Excessive whining or crying
- Clinging, more dependent, won’t let you out of his sight (Borba)
Secondly, experts say parents need to acknowledge teen stress is a serious problem and that this stress can affect their child.
~ 31% of parents say their child has little or no stress vs. 9% of kids report little or no stress
~ Tweens (30 percent) and teens (42 percent) say they get headaches vs. 13 percent of parents
~ Tweens (39 percent) and teens (49 percent) cite difficulty sleeping vs. 13 percent of parents
~ Tweens (27 percent) and teens (39 percent) report eating too much or too little vs. 8 percent of parents (Borba).
So, once signs are recognized and acceptance is made, what is next? First, don’t be the pushy, overzealous, hypocritical parent I was. Listen to your children and let them find their own path in life. Praise them for the gifts they have and don’t try to make them be what you think they should be. Secondly, not only listen to your child, but watch your child. Monitor kids time on social media if you notice they are upset every time they use their phone. Try to give them some down time, so they can unwind and relax. Finally, if you recognize that nothing you do helps your child, do not be afraid to find a professional counselor to help. Don’t let your child’s stress, anxiety, or depression overtake him to the point that, God forbid, he becomes another example of a child who felt so helpless that he took his own life. We say we love our children and want what is best for them; love them enough to admit when we as parents are hurting them and to admit when we as parents are not enough to help.
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