In an age where technological advancements provide tools to help students learn, many teens still feel overworked and overstressed. In 2014, the American Psychological Association discovered that U.S. teens are just as stressed as adults: 30% of students reported signs of depression, and 23% of students revealed that they miss meals. During these challenging times, it’s imperative for parents to understand the causes, identify the signs, and model best practices in order to alleviate their child’s stress.

Causes of Student Stress

Academic, emotional, social, and financial reasons may impact a student’s stress level. Identifying the cause or causes allows you, as parents, to quickly address the problem to help them perform better in school. 

There are physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms that derive from stress. Physical symptoms of anxiety may include fatigue, trouble sleeping, and unusual changes in weight. Emotional symptoms pertain to restlessness, feelings of isolation, feelings of sadness, and a reduced interest in normal activities. Finally, there are cognitive and behavioral symptoms, which include changes in eating or sleeping habits, impaired concentration, trouble remembering things, chronic worrying, and significant shifts in school performance. 

Below are the primary causes that may affect your child’s stress level: 

Exams

The pressures of passing exams intensifies a student’s stress level. Tests are an essential benchmark that impact their grade, and the fear of failing increases one’s stress while attempting to study or take a test. Some students—even the prepared ones—who already suffer from anxiety may buckle under pressure because of stress.

Homework

Uncertainty and fear are invisible drivers of stress. Students struggling with stress feel worried about completing their homework assignments and meeting deadlines on a daily basis.

Family

Parents may have the best of intentions but oftentimes create more stress for their child. This may be more performance-based, such as having high expectations for grades or participation in extracurriculars. A parent's desires feel unattainable to a stressed student. Moreover, arguments at home can bleed into the classroom, decreasing the student’s ability to focus.

Global Pandemics

The global pandemic of the coronavirus (COVID-19) escalates students' stress levels. For those returning to campus, social distancing guidelines dramatically alter how students interact with each other. For example, students now spend lunch or recess six feet apart from one another, making it difficult to relax or build relationships in between classes. The health and safety restrictions may have repercussions of anxiety and lack of focus for students.

Tips for Parents to Help Ease Student Stress

Student Stress Scale 

To begin, assess your child’s stress level on a daily basis. The student stress scale is a method to determine the overall stress level students may be experiencing based on possible life events. To determine a student’s stress score, add the following life events that have occurred within the past year. If that event has occurred more than once over the past year, then you can multiply it by the number of occurrences that happened. This event score demonstrates how many adaptations a student encountered, which has caused their total stress score. 

The lower side of the scale includes life events, such as changes in sleeping habits, an increase in workload at school, trouble with parents, or obtaining lower grades than expected. The higher end of the spectrum pertains to the following life events: death of a family member or friend, divorce, major injury or illness, pregnancy, or failing a course. 

One important factor is the perception of these events. If these events are perceived at a lower level of stress, overall stress will be decreased. This scale indicates whether a student must adapt and bring themself back to homeostasis. Engaging with a therapist or counselor provides a solution for students to manage their various levels of stress.

Quality of Sleep

It’s important to ensure your child gets a good night’s sleep to improve their attention span and ability to learn. Research proves that stress produces sleep deprivation. According to a survey performed by the National Sleep Foundation in 2011, 43 percent of Americans (between the ages of 13 to 64) do not get a full night’s sleep during the week. A sleep-deprived student will not be able to learn effectively—causing more stress, anxiety, and depression. Sleep also plays an important role in the consolidation of memory, which is imperative for a student to acquire new information. Quality rest can dramatically boost a student’s mood, reduce their stress levels, and improve their performance. As a parent, it’s important to enforce a bedtime routine, even for teens, due to the overwhelming benefits. 

Don’t Overschedule 

Many psychologists believe students require time to decompress and unwind after school. To follow suit, try not to overschedule your child with too many extracurricular activities, like sports, music, or tutoring. Instead, encourage them to relax at home or outdoors, hang out with friends, or engage in creative or reflective activities, like writing, journaling, or listening to music. 

Stay Active

Only one in three children acquire some sort of physical activity per day. Exercise, especially cardio fitness, produces positive effects on a student’s mood or self-esteem. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adolescents need at least one hour of exercise each day to prevent anxiety or depression. Organized sports is one way to encourage your teen to be active and social while playing outside. 

Serve a Healthy and Balanced Diet 

A healthy diet improves a student’s cognitive function and mood, as well as provides ample energy to tackle a full day of classes. Meals should consist of whole grains, protein, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Limit foods that negatively impact your child’s mood, such as artificial coloring, dairy, preservatives, sugar, and food allergens. Processed foods may also cause depression and sleep problems. 

Monitor Online Usage 

To reduce the unhealthy impacts of social media or cyberbullying, parents should closely monitor and track their teen’s internet usage. Try to set time limits and educate your child on how to best use social media content.

Your Parental Responsibility

Stress is a part of life. Successful stress management produces character. Healthy student stress benefits a student’s development because it challenges them to learn more about themself and perform in high-pressure situations. Too much stress, however, leads to mental and emotional fatigue, resulting in depression, lack of focus, poor eating behaviors, and sleep deprivation. As parents, you can communicate with your child about how to set healthy boundaries and model ways to ease their stress during difficult times.