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Teens and Academic Stress

By Leah Weber, LMSW

Does your teen seem stressed? They probably are! Teens can become overwhelmed by hours of homework, studying, and extracurricular activities. Their schedules are jam packed from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed. In addition to academic stress, adolescents carry with them anxiety about school violence, bullying, contracting COVID, and racism, among other issues. All these factors can cause teens to be overwhelmed by stress.  

All parents want their teens to be successful in school but at what cost? It is important for teens to earn high grades if their future involves higher education; however, many high achieving adolescents believe that they must be “perfect” to be accepted into universities. Perfectionism can have a negative impact on teens’ self-esteem and add to their stress. As adolescents are still developing and figuring out who they are, they may be more likely to align their academic success with their identity and self-worth. No one is perfect, so when a teen receives a low grade or struggles in a class, they may overcompensate by studying longer or they may completely shut down.   

Stress over long periods of time can lead to anxiety and depression in teens. The question you may be asking yourself is … “How do I help my teen with managing school stress? Here are a few tips: 

  1. Encourage a balance between academics and extracurricular activities. Participating in activities such as sports, band, and clubs after school can offer stress relief and can increase self-esteem. Extracurricular activities offer a creative outlet and help adolescents use and identify new skills. However, too many activities can lead to a teen being over scheduled and feeling overwhelmed. Encourage your teen to participate in one or two activities and add activities after they show that they can manage them. Don’t forget to praise your teen for their accomplishments in their afterschool activities just as you would praise them for academic achievements.   
  2. Utilize task management strategies. Parents can help their teens develop a plan to complete tasks such as homework and study. Teens can use apps on their phone to organize their assignments or use a paper planner. They can also use timers to manage the time they spend on each assignment. Once they are organized and they have a plan of how they will complete their assignments, they will feel less stressed and more in control.
  3. Promote breaks and stress relieving activities. When you sit down with your teen to develop a task management plan, make sure to incorporate breaks. Everyone is different so the number of breaks and length of those breaks depend on the individual’s needs. Most people benefit from taking a 5-minute break after working on one task for an hour. Breaks can include listening to music, taking a walk, or eating a snack.  
  4. Acknowledge the importance of environment. Having a study space is essential. Teens should feel comfortable in the place where they are studying. Ideally the space should be quiet and free from distractions. Get teens involved in creating their study space. If teens are involved, they may be more likely to use the space.  
  5. Be mindful of praise and pressure. Parents, teachers, and peers all contribute to the pressure teens feel to earn high grades and strive for perfection. Instead of praising your teen for the grade they receive, praise your teen for the effort they put in to writing that paper or the time and energy they spent studying for the test. Use a nonjudgmental attitude when talking to your teen about grades. Most likely their teachers and guidance counselors have stressed the importance of getting good grades in order to get into college.  
  6. Talk to your teen. Take time talk to your teen if they seem stressed about school. Ask them about their classes and teachers. Show them empathy by telling them about a time when you felt stressed in school. Acknowledge your teen’s stress and validate their feelings. Tell them that they are not alone and that you are here to help them.  

If your teen continues to struggle despite implementing these stress reduction strategies, consider consulting with the teen’s school to see if there are any resources that may help. You can request psychological testing if your teen is showing symptoms of a learning disability. You can also contact JCS if you think your teen would benefit from mental health services.

Leah Weber, LMSW is a Therapist at Jewish Community Services.

JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.

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