Is Your Teen Stressed Out?

I’m grateful for a lot of things, and one thing I am constantly thankful for is the fact that I was a teenager 20 years ago, and not now! Today’s teens are juggling so many balls at once it’s amazing that more are not in crisis.

If you have a teen in your life, do you ever stop and marvel at all he/she accomplishes on a daily basis just to be average?  Yes, I said average—the new four-letter word that is attached to so many teenagers these days if they aren’t going the extra mile (make that ten extra miles!) to be as near perfect in academics, sports, extra-curricular activities, community service venues, social relationships (if they even have time for those) and as sons and daughters as possible.

It’s definitely a concern of many parents with kids in the Pier Middle and Narragansett High Schools because last week, the NHS PTO addressed the topic of Peer Relationships, Bullying and the Emotional Wellbeing of Developing Adolescents.  The guest speaker was Michael C. Cerullo, Jr, MS, LMHC. 

The following quotes were from actual NHS students taken from a very recent survey:

  • Everyone gets picked on, you just need to deal with it – NHS Student
  • Why is everyone else popular, but not me? – NHS Student
  • I always feel sad, I don’t know why – NPS Student
  • I wish everyone would just leave me alone – NHS Student
  • I don’t feel like myself anymore – NHS Student
  • I wake up every day feeling like it’s doomsday NHS Student
  • Did you talk to your parents about how you feel?  I don’t want them to worry NHS Student

This certainly grabbed the attention of our Gansett Mom’s Council (and the plenty of dads who attended the meeting that night!) and the discussion of what’s causing their stress and how we can help was tops on our parenting agenda.

One commonly we as parents all agreed on was that regardless of whether our teen student was in accelerated classes or struggling with an I.E.P. (Individual Education Plan) and required additional support—the majority of our kids are feeling the pressure of trying to keep it all together when it comes to their studies and academic loads.

“My son is definitely not a slacker--he’s in accelerated classes, plays 3 sports a year, is involved in band, is very involved with community service projects, yet he constantly gets down on himself because he doesn’t feel it’s good enough.  He’s at the point where something has to go, but he’s afraid he’ll let us down or his teachers down or even the coach if he cuts back on anything.  Sadly, the only person he’s letting down is himself,” shared one of our very concerned parents.

Now that I have five teens, no, I’m not rocking and drooling in a corner yet, I have seen many angles to teen stress from mild to pretty intense.  Getting a high school diploma these days is what it was like for a lot of us to get a college degree.  The requirements of the Senior Project and Portfolio with 24 proficient tasks uploaded is an enormous amount of added pressure to our high schoolers these days, never mind the required community service hours (which are a good thing!) and trying to keep up with the homework of their regular classes, attending practices for sports, band, chorus, play rehearsals, and working part-time jobs!  Down time, if there is such a thing anymore, is taking a shower and going to bed.

Just as adults do, young people deal with stress in their own way too.  Teens who are still struggling with puberty, peer pressure, and possible family problems, may turn to drugs, alcohol and sex to help them get through their darkest times. 

As a close-knit community, we work together on many occasions to keep our teens emotionally and physically healthy, but unfortunately, we aren’t always able to reach every individual, many times our own child.

So what can we as parents, teachers, friends, family and a community do to help our teens navigate the rough waters of the teenage years?  We turned to internationally acclaimed clinical psychologist, parenting expert and author of New York Times bestselling parenting books, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus, Dr. Wendy Mogel, for some advice.

I had the privilege of interviewing her last week, and I found her parenting advice to be candid, refreshing, witty and above all practical.   Best of all, Dr. Mogel is coming to Providence on April 1st to discuss her latest book, The Blessing of a B Minus, and you can hear her speak for free.  (Details at the end of this article)

Patch:  How did you come up with the titles of your books, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus?

Dr. Mogel:  I saw a trend developing amongst the patients in my practice.  Parents have become very overprotective of their children, are constantly over scheduling them, completely overindulging them—basically they are doing everything humanly possible to make them perfect.  The exception, however, is that they aren’t teaching their kids to be respectful, especially to adults. 

My first book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee symbolized the antidote to this—you basically have to let your child get scraped and bruised and then let them have a chance to heal.  In other words, you need to let them make mistakes, and if they don’t learn this early on they are never going to be able to cope as young adults when they go off to college or live out on their own in the real world.  The Blessing of a B Minus holds with it a stigma that in today’s society many teenaged children are just not good enough.  They need to produce A plus’ all the time.   Parents can easily lose focus that for many students, a B minus is truly an accomplishment for them—simply the best that student can do.  For others, the B minus is symbolizing the lack of commitment some teenagers have or it could be a silent cry that he is tired of being pushed to try so hard.

Patch:  Why did you feel the need to write your newest book?

Dr. Mogel:  I see on a regular basis how much worry and anxiety that today’s youth and young teens are burdened with.  Parents need to realize what it is that these kids feel they must contribute to their families to be seen as valuable in the overall family unit.  The largest contribution they can offer is to earn really good grades.  Years ago, kids had chores and had to help pay their own way.  Farm kids got up in the wee hours of the morning to milk the cows and clean out the horse stalls.  Young girls would help with the mending and doing the laundry.  The majority of our kids today don’t do much to help their families in the way of helping out around the house yet they expect full entitlement.  Others feel like they have to be perfect and don’t know how to ask for help because they don’t want to let their parents and families down.   The basics that kids can contribute these days are getting good grades, being stellar athletes, and by being popular amongst their peers and teachers.

Dr. Mogel has traveled the country asking kids how they were feeling.  The overwhelming majority confessed that they were constantly worried about keeping up with their schedules and getting the grades that their parents could be proud of.  Part of this pressure is something that parents bring on all by themselves and many times it stems from hanging out with other parents who continually brag that their child is the brightest genius the town has ever seen.  Her blunt advice to parents about “keeping up with the Jones’” is to not hang out with these type of people no matter what.  The damage can be great if you get sucked in with a group of parents who love to criticize and compare.  

Patch:  What are some of the questions you ask teens when you travel the country speaking?

Dr. Mogel:  I find the following questions to be very powerful and insightful, especially when I can share this information with their parents.

  • What shouldn’t your parents worry about when it comes to you?
  • What should they worry about?
  • What are some of the sweetest things your parents have ever done for you that they might not realize?

Dr. Mogel is noticing that parents want to take their kids from cute babies and toddlers and skip right through the adolescent stage where they just jump into being young Jr. Statesmen and adults.  In this way they can avoid all the angst and struggle that goes with raising tweens and teens.   She can’t stress enough that healthy children need to make mistakes in order to learn.  “It’s the only way they will have coping skills when they are on their own.  It’s not a perfect world and they have to learn how to deal with that,” she implores to parents.

Patch:  What do you think is impacting parents to be so overprotective and obsessed with perfection?

Dr. Mogel:  Two things seem to be making an impact on parents to act this way.

  1. Parents are concerned about the lack of safety that surrounds their children on a regular basis.  They want to protect their kids from pedophiles, kidnappers, drug dealers, gangs etc.   It’s hard for people to believe, but the truth is that the crime rate is down considerably throughout the country.  I like to quote the crime rate in each city that I visit because it is down and parents don’t realize this.    Because we have access to 24 hour news cycles, parents live completely paranoid and don’t let their children take risks.  The problem with living in fear is that at some point, children are going to be faced with a situation that could bring them potential harm and they won’t be able to handle it because they were too sheltered for most of their upbringing.  This is doing children a very unhealthy disservice.
  2. The second fear is about the economy.  Parents panic about the current job market, health care, global warming and all these kinds of things and then they create the worst possible scenarios in terms of these situations such as thinking their children will never be able to afford a decent home, get a good paying job, or have a healthy planet to raise their own children on unless they are PERFECT students in every way.

She continues by recognizing that if parents themselves have their own fears or have not been successful in a career or a personal relationship, they displace their fears on to their kids and that in turn leads to a situation such as wanting to make sure little Mikey gets placed in the 2nd grade classroom with the teacher that has the best reputation for getting students to excel beyond grade level.

Bottom line is that parents need to learn to give up so much control and loosen the reign.  “They can still be alert but cannot always be alarmed. Normal teen ups and downs seem like tumultuous storms. Instead of typical teen moodiness, arrogance and annoyance-with-parents these overstressed kids feel anxious, demoralized and helpless, and some become very angry. Instead of taking it out on their parents — who already seem so vulnerable — they take it out on themselves in the form of eating disorders, self-injury, homework strikes and anxiety and gloominess about the future,” Dr. Mogel explains with great concern.

Dr. Mogel shares an essay she wrote titled Overparenting AnonymousA 13-step program for those who feel powerless over overindulgence, overprotection, over scheduling and expectations of perfection.

1. Don’t mistake a snapshot taken today with the epic movie of your child’s life.

2. Before you nag, criticize, praise or over-explain remember the slogan W.A.I.T.: “Why am I talking?” Listen four times more than you talk.

3. Be alert but not automatically alarmed.

4. Don’t confuse children’s wants with their needs.

5. Recognize that your child’s grades or varsity ranking is not the measure of your worth as a parent. Your child is not your masterpiece.

6. Learn to love the words “trial” and “error.” Let your child make mistakes before going off to college. Grant freedom based on demonstrated responsibility and accountability, not what all the other kids are doing.

7. Don’t fret over or fix what’s not broken. Accept your child’s nature even if he’s shy, stubborn, moody or not great at math. The rabbis caution: If your child has a talent to be a baker, don’t ask him to be a doctor.

8. Resist taking the role of sherpa, butler, crabby concierge, talent agent, a crack team of defense attorneys, an ATM or the secret police. Your child is hard-wired for competence.

9. When your child doesn’t get the cool English teacher, make the team, get a big part in the play, or gets ejected from the in-group remind yourself that disappointments are necessary preparation for adult life.

10. Emphasize ordinary chores and jobs along with schoolwork and extracurriculars while accepting that chores will get done on AST (Adolescent Standard Time).

11. Give your kids time to play…lest they to sue you for stealing their childhoods.

12. Don’t take it personally if your teenager treats you like crap. They have pre-trip jitters. They’re getting ready for the journey of life.

13. Put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your child. Start by looking at the website: whenparentstext.com for a tender, witty perspective on generational differences.

You can hear many other valuable blessings and parenting advice from the warm and humorous Dr. Wendy Mogel on Sunday, April 1 at 4 PM at Temple Beth El 70 Orchard Avenue, Providence at no cost.  Both of her books will be available for purchase.  For more information, contact info@Temple-Beth-El.org or you can visit her website at www.wendymogel.com

How do you feel your teen handles stress these days?  Please let us know in the comment section or e-mail me at CB091987@aol.com or our editor Stephen Greenwell at Stephen.Greenwell@patch.com

Diane March 23, 2012 at 05:50 PM
I am disturbed at the lack of time my son has to play outside, because of his project work and homework, and he is in just 8th grade. Good grades, but definitely at a price. In addition, it worries me that a student like my son, who loves learning, will have it beat out of him by "teasing" by other students and the portfolio process. I am a high school teacher and I see the damage RI state reform has done. Seniors feel nervous all the time. The State has changed its criteria so many times, that senior high school students feel as if they are performing circus tricks to graduate, many of whom have already been accepted to schools like BC, Northeastern, USC, Dartmouth! Requirements have changes so many times, and nothing old has been eliminated. It is like a recipe with way too many ingredients. The outcome is a fourteen layer cake that leans like the Tower of Pisa and tastes horrible. Teachers are overworked (evidenced in teachers not aware of the teasing, in slow turn-around of corrected work and in lost papers), and students are learning less. How can students not feel stressed? They are the victims of experimental high school reform.
Lisa herbert March 23, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Excellent article, well presented, informative, valid and relevant . Thanks !
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