The headline in the Washington Post read, “Student stress tied to rash of suicides…”. One parent that was interviewed stated that, “They are under too much pressure. It’s not all about how many AP classes you took.”
The stress and pressure so many students feel at the high school level comes from many different directions. They are encouraged strongly by advisers that they need to take AP classes. They are pushed by parents to do well in school and take on a multitude of extra-curricular activities from multiple sports to clubs and organizations – so they can get into a good school. They have the pressure from fellow students who look down on those not taking all the AP classes, as second class students. I personally have watched students be taunted for the schools that they received rejection letters from. Add to that the pressure these students put on themselves to live up to the expectations of so many others or themselves, and it is little wonder that they feel they are at the breaking point.
As a teacher or parent we want to be in tune with the resilience of a student. Are they optimistic? Do they demonstrate self control in all parts of their life? Do they take what they have for granted, feel entitled or do they appreciate the little and big things in their life? What level of empathy are they able to show to others? Are they drawn into conflict easily or do their skills for overcoming challenges demonstrate a high emotional IQ? Do they demonstrate day to day that they believe in a set of core values and see the big picture guided by those values?
Teens are not developmentally ready to take on the amount of stress our society is placing on them today. As a parent and teacher or school system, what can you do to relieve that stress? One of the most important things we can do as an adult is listen without judgement. We do not have to fix or tell them how to fix their issues. We must though, be aware of their thoughts, actions and feelings and be prepared to help them not feel so hopeless and helpless that they believe the only way out is to hurt themselves. We must also be prepared to guide them in coming up with solutions that work for them.
If they come up with the solutions, and we help them to believe in themselves – we will help them grow into adults who are optimistic, living by core values, for a purpose they determine and grateful the whole time for all they have in their life.