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What Causes Teen Stress?

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years and has a focus on special education and urban education. She received her Master's degree in teaching from Simmon's College and her Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology.

In this lesson we'll explore what causes stress in teenagers. We'll look at the increasingly high pressures to succeed academically, as well as relationship stress with families and peers. We'll also explore how the problems of poverty and neighborhood violence can cause stress in teenagers.

Day in the Life of a Teenager

Your alarm goes off at five in the morning. Though you just want to sleep in, you know you need to get breakfast ready for your little sister and get her off to school. Your mom works the night shift as a nurse, and your father doesn't live with you, so your sister is depending on you. After walking her to school, you catch the bus to your own school.

At school you scramble to finish the homework you didn't have time to do last night. You had basketball practice, had to drop mom off at work, and needed to make dinner for you and your sister. Also, your head has been elsewhere since your best friend landed in the hospital due to a stray bullet in your neighborhood.

You can't seem to get your head on straight. Welcome to the life of a teenager. Although all teens don't face the challenges listed above, most face at least some. Academic stress, family issues, relationships with peers, and neighborhood safety all weigh heavily on the shoulders of today's youth.

Let's explore these issues and learn why teens have valid reasons to be stressed out.

Academic Stress

Academic stress is more real today for teens than ever before. Given the soaring costs of a college education, the pressure to earn scholarships is enormous. Students are also inundated with hours of homework for each class. Many students opt to take advanced placement classes to try to earn college credit, and these classes often come with college-levels of homework. Obtaining the skills offered by a college degree is especially important today given the shrinking job market prospects for those with only a high school diploma. Students with a high school diploma earn on average $17,500 less annually than students with a bachelor's degree.

Charter schools, which are public schools funded with public money but run by private companies, are also gaining popularity with parents. Some of these schools are for-profit private companies while others are non-profit, but both are part of public school systems. At these schools, extended hours (up to nine hours in class per day), strict rules, and demanding extracurricular activities leave little time for fun in a teen's life.

In addition, standardized testing, tests administered to all students in a state or county, has taken on a large role in American education. Students spend days taking practice exams, learning test-taking strategies, and doing the actual tests. These high-stakes tests determine not only scholarship eligibility, but also whether or not a student can get their high school diploma, regardless of whether other requirements for graduation have been met.

Standardized testing adds stress to teen academic life
testing

Family Stress

A healthy, safe, and loving family is essential for the development of any child. However, family relationships can bring additional stress to students. Parents going through their own emotional or mental health problems can disrupt a teen's life. Teenagers may feel responsible for their parent's actions, or become the victim of physical or emotional abuse. Parent relationships can also affect teens. Divorce can be upsetting to teens, who may feel abandoned or forced to choose sides between parents.

Divorce adds stress to teens
divorce

Poverty can also be taxing on teens. Families with a low income often put more burdens on teens to make money to support the household. Teenagers might be required to work after school, thereby putting studies aside to help support their family.

Many teens come from immigrant families and their parents might not speak English. In this case, teens often act as a translator for important medical appointments, government paperwork (like visa applications), and issues with housing. This consumes a teenager's time and can cause additional stress.

Peer Relationships

Relationships are hard at any age. Understanding what you want and being able to communicate that to other people while respecting their needs is difficult. Teen brains are still developing, particularly in the frontal lobe, which controls executive functions and emotions. Teenagers are still figuring out who they are, and that involves a lot of trial and error.

Romantic relationships can be hard too. There is enormous pressure on teens to become sexually active, and most teens lack a basic understanding of reproductive anatomy. Teenage girls may feel pressured to have sex to be considered a valuable part of a relationship, and boys feel pressured to want sex early on. Without proper sex education, this can lead to sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy, both of which add to the mounting stress on teens.

Romantic relationships can add stress to teen life
teen sexuality

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