Today’s Teens Are Affected by Stress – by Tony Thomas

Playing sports afterschool with friends is a great way to manage stress
Playing sports afterschool with friends is a great way to manage stress

When people talk about their stress levels, we tend to think that we are discussing only adults. However, in study after study, we are finding that teens feel more stressed than adults do.

According to the 2014 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), teens rated their stress levels at 5.8 on 10-point scale, compared with 5.1 for adults. That number seems somewhat high for such a young demographic. Most teens do not have to pay rent, take care of a family, or work 40+ hours a week. What is causing teens to feel so stressed?

Allow me to explain. Teens who feel high levels of stress do so because they worry about school, family financial concerns, and friendships.

School stress usually involves the pressures of striving to get and keep good grades, standardized tests, and applying to colleges. There is no doubt how important school is, but at times, teens can feel overworked and overwhelmed with projects and homework.

When you combine school pressures to the additional stress that some teens have regarding their family’s financial situation, it can create a tenuous time in an adolescent’s life. Many times when families are struggling to make ends meet, they may not realize the impact that it has on their children. Parents may even be unaware that their teens know about financial hardships. When families go through hardships, teens often feel compelled to look for a job to help the family out. Teens are not working for money to spend leisurely, but rather to help contribute toward family finances.

Stress is affecting teens overall physical and mental health. 30% of teens reported feeling sad or depressed because of stress and 31% felt overwhelmed. Another 35% of teens reported that stress caused them to lie awake at night and 26% said that they are overeating or eating unhealthy foods in the past month because of stress.

Stress also affects teens sleep patterns. They reported sleeping on average 7.4 on school nights and 8.1 hours on non-school nights, less than the 8 to 10 hours recommended by The National Sleep Foundation.

Teens who experience high levels of stress are also more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking, and using illegal drugs. They may turn to these unhealthy behaviors as a coping mechanism. It is important as parents, siblings, caregivers, mentors, and teachers, that we recognize the signs of stress in teens and learn to help them cope. Many teens are looking for safe and positive outlets. Letting them know that you care can make a big difference in their life.

At the Manassas Park Community Center, we have a teen center for youths ages 12-18. We encourage them to stop by and hang out, play video games, or watch a movie. We also provide opportunities for teens to participate in fitness classes and sports as well. Exercising and being physically active is one of the best ways to help cope with stress. Our goal at the Community Center and in the teen center is to provide a safe outlet for all teens, regardless of what they are going through. Our teen center staff is trained on how to interact with teens, and we have several books and resources available that teens can borrow free of charge if they do not wish to speak to our staff about what they are going through.

We hope that if you are teen, you will stop by the MPCC teen center, and if you are a parent, we hope that you encourage your teen to give one of our teen classes a chance. Engaging in one of our classes or exercising at the Community Center is a great way to start to work off some of the stress that happens in a teen’s daily life.

All teen classes cost $2.00/day and are included in the MPCC teen membership, which is only $20.00 per month. Scholarship opportunities are also available for those that qualify.

Tony Thomas is the Recreation Services Supervisor for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be reached at 703-335-8872 or via email at T.Thomas@ManassasParkVA.gov.

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