College faculty have noticed an alarming increase in anxiety and depression among college students. Depression is living in the past and anxiety is worrying about the future. Many parents are concerned about their teenager getting into a good college to ultimately have a successful career. Teens greatly focus on their grades, test scores, standardized tests scores, and take advanced placement courses to boost their GPA to compete for college admission. Many teens hold the belief that they must be admitted into a well-respected and well-known school, such as Stanford to ultimately get a good career. Once in college, the focus on test scores and GPA continues.
The pressure for academic excellence is focused on performance and not effort. Many teens are perfectionists, striving to be the best in everything, which limits them from taking risks. Few of us want to “fail,” but failure should be defined as an opportunity to learn. When we ask our teen, “How did you do on your test today?” the message is implied that the test score is more important and valued than the effort or learning. If the teen didn’t receive the grade he or she desired, the conclusion is “I failed.” An alternative question, “What did you learn in school today?” is open-ended and focuses on the learning process as opposed to the end result of a grade. To reduce stress, teens need parental support and encouragement to live a more balanced life. Here are a few tips:
- Help your teen get enough sleep.. The recommended amount is approximately 9 hours each night. Not enough sleep reduces focus, concentration, and working memory and increases irritability. Set a routine bed time for your teen, excluding the occasional need for more time to study for a final exam. Explain to your teen what bed time looks like, for example, cell phone off (use an alarm clock instead), lights out, and lying horizontal in bed.
- Help your teen with time management. Avoid over scheduling activities. Allow your teen to chose one extracurricular activity for after school.
- Incorporate family time with your teen every evening, such as playing a short game or taking a 20-minute walk. Family dinners count as family time too.
- Allow your teen to have no more than two hours of unstructured free time, such as time for video games or watching television.
- Encourage a short break after a half-hour to an hour of study time. Time spent on homework should not exceed two-and-a-half-hours each night, of course there are exceptions to this rule. Nevertheless, research has shown that the effectiveness of studying sharply decreases after approximately two to two-and-a-half hours.
- When your teen is stressed and venting emotions, avoid minimizing your teen’s emotions by saying, “It isn’t that bad” or “Don’t worry so much, it will be fine.” When feeling anxious, your teen’s world is very true for him or her in the moment. Allow the emotional expression, without judgment or an immediate solution. Break it up by getting a milkshake or taking a walk and then, help your teen to look at some options to resolve the problem that is stressing out your teen. If you allow your teen to vent and then immediately offer resolutions, he or she may feel even more stressed, so the break is important.
- Help your teen to self-assess by asking questions. You will gain a greater understanding of your teen’s perspective and by asking questions, you are encouraging your teen to independently think and make connections. This skill will help your teen to solve problems as they occur in the future.
- Remind your teen that he or she can get through the difficulty by listing their past triumphs when faced with a challenge. Not only does this support your teen, it helps your teen to think more realistically about the problem as opposed to thinking of it as a catastrophe. It also helps build self-esteem and reminds them of their resilience.
- Praise effort more than the grade. “Wow! You worked diligently on this research paper. I am proud of you.” Praising effort raises self-esteem as well as praising virtues, such as integrity or compassion. When virtues and effort are praised, your teen learns to connect self-identity with who he or she is rather than by his or her achievements. Furthermore, praising effort encourages your teen to try something new and takes the fear out of “failing”.
- Download my e-book, “Why Motivation Is NOT Your Teen’s Problem, 5 Surprising Steps to Academic Success” for more information on common teen thought distortions, active listening, and time management and organization tips! Click Here for Instant Access, while it is fresh in your mind. : )