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Academic Stress: How to Support Your Teen

Related to academics, High School students stress about: 

  • Increasing amounts of schoolwork
  • Assignment deadlines
  • Quizzes and exams
  • Class presentations (public speaking)
  • Honors and IB classes
  • High-stakes tests (i.e. Regents, SAT)
  • Getting into college
  • Selecting a career path
  • Balancing school with sports, hobbies and social life
  • Expectations of parents and teachers
  • Competing with siblings
  • Fear of failure
  • “Information Age”: Academic stress is on the rise partly because the information age now provides students with a vast amount of information at their fingertips and because students are expected to synthesize such information at a more accelerated rate than when their parents attended school.

Negative effects of stress: 

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep
  • Somatic complaints (i.e. headaches, stomachaches)
  • School avoidance or refusal
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Aggression
  • Isolation
  • Use of drugs and/or alcohol (self-medicating)

Parents can help ease their teens’ academic stress in several ways: 

  • Be interested and available to help with schoolwork: This demonstrates both that education is a priority and that help is available for difficult homework assignments that your child may be struggling with.
  • Make sure your child is eating healthy and getting adequate sleep: Students should be eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  If a student’s body is not nourished, they will be less available for learning and performing to their potential.  On average teens need approximately 9 hours of sleep. Sleep is an essential factor in memory development. 
  • Ask questions and listen to your teen: Ask questions and show them that you want to be involved in their lives.  If they are open to talking to you,  LISTEN - don't talk.  Sometimes students are stressed about school work and are ashamed to let anyone know that they are struggling.  By asking questions you create the space for your child to express what he or she is experiencing.  Once they verbalize some of the stress they are feeling, they may be able to approach their school work with a clearer mind.
  • Validate what they are experiencing: Make validating statements such as, “Wow it must really be tough to do all the work you are doing,” “If I was you and I had as much work as you do, I would feel stressed out too,” “I really give you credit for everything you take on.”  Students need to hear that it is okay to feel the way they feel.  Being validated is a human need… it allows us to experience what we are experiencing, be okay with it and move on.
  • Be positive and encourage your child to think positively-use positive self-talk: We often hear our children and students saying to themselves, “I can't do this,” “This is pointless so I might as well give up,” or “I'm never going to pass this test.”  It is a fact that our thoughts affect the way we feel.  When a student talks to themselves in this way, they often feel hopeless, and as a result they might shut down.  You want to encourage your child to speak to themselves in positive terms: “I can do this,” “This is hard, but I’ll get through it,” “I have studied a lot and I'm prepared for this test.”  Encouraging positive self talk is one way that you can help your child alleviate some academic stress.
  • Help your child develop a daily academic routine at home: Ask your child what works best for them.  Decide on a location that is most conducive for them to complete their work or study.  One thing you might try is setting up periods of work time, for example: a block of 45 minutes for work or study.  Then he or she should take a 15 minute break at which time they can do as they wish.  This will help to alleviate procrastination, cramming, or uncompleted homework assignments that often lead to a teen’s academic decline. 
  • Assist your child with effective time management strategies: Effective time management is a key approach to preventing avoidable stress. Support your child in staying organized and encourage them to plan ahead. Help them to anticipate their peak stress times and clear their schedule as much as possible to be able to focus on the most important assignments, exams and other schoolwork.  Suggest to them to keep a “to do” list of their tasks and do them in order of priority.
  • Discuss your own expectations with your teen: While some teens need concrete specific expectations to help motivate them, most teens need only the reassurance from their parents that if he or she works to the best of their ability that the parents will be proud.  We all have relative academic strengths and weaknesses in certain areas and parents need to recognize the ease and encourage and nurture their child’s strengths
  • Love your child unconditionally !

 

* While all students experience stress at some time, if your child’s level of academic stress appears to be severely impact their functioning, you may want to seek the support of a professional.

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