It’s midnight, and your teenager sits at the dining room table finishing his AP Algebra II homework. Tomorrow he has morning football practice, a full day of school, an after-class meeting and a tutoring session. He’s a dream college applicant: involved, intelligent and ambitious. But his resume doesn’t reveal his true personality traits: over-scheduled, anxious and exhausted.
Teenage students have fallen victim to the “busy trap,” an addiction to stressful schedules. There’s no time for teenagers to discover who they are — there are G.P.A.s to maintain, sports to practice and social statuses to uphold. For students and their over-stressed parents, free time denotes failure; busyness is better than idleness. If your student’s schedule stays full, then he is succeeding.
But if you climb out of the hazy reality of the busy trap, you’ll see that a demanding schedule is hurting your student, and most teenagers. According to an American Psychological Association (APA) survey, teenagers are the most stressed age group, but the least capable of dealing with constant pressure.
Chronic Stress Will Make Your Teen Sick
Teenagers cannot handle high stress levels because they are still developing mentally and physically. Adolescents are recommended nine to 10 hours of sleep per night, but 70 percent of high school students don’t meet that requirement.
When they consistently lose sleep, teenagers are at risk of developing major depressive disorder, according to a University of Texas study. And depressed teens are four times more likely to develop insomnia, contributing to the dangerous cycle of stress and sleep deprivation.
Other health issues caused by chronic stress include:
Weakened immune systems
Upset stomach or digestion
Elise Fuller, professional counselor at Positive Outlook Counseling, said, “In everyone I see, stress is correlated to illness. Often, [stressed] students have to miss school regularly."
Teens Take Cues From Their Parents’ Schedules
Teens stack their schedules because their parents lead busy lives. Often, parents encourage their teens to keep their grades up, get involved in several organizations and play multiple sports. Even if they don’t over-schedule their children, parents model the perception that busyness equates success.
APA CEO and Executive Vice President Norman B. Anderson, PhD, said, “Parents and other adults can play a critical role in helping teens get a handle on stress by modeling healthy stress management behaviors.
Despite their busy schedules, parents must make time to talk with their children and determine if their activities are causing them stress or joy. Parents should also allow and encourage relaxation in their homes. Writer Tim Kreider explained the importance of idleness in his popular “Busy Trap” article: “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.”
Take Simple Steps To Lower Your Student’s Stress Levels
If steps are taken to ease stress, teens are less likely to turn to unhealthy solutions to cope with pressure. After examining your schedules and cutting any unnecessary commitments, consider these tips:
Engage in light exercise, including yoga or walking.
Make something with your hands; start an art project.
Listen to calming music.
Another step in lowering stress levels is pure perspective. Encourage your teenager to change the way he sees commitments. There are more reasons to join organizations than to boost your college application. When you grab lunch with friends, you don’t need an agenda. Playing sports can help relieve pressure, even if you’re not an all-star player.
Making time to communicate is also important. “With parents and children, you must have open communication,” Fuller said. “Ask children how they are feeling instead of what they have on their plate.”