Anxiety is increasingly becoming a serious issue for American teens. A whopping 62% of incoming high school freshman surveyed by the American College Health Association said they had experienced overwhelming anxiety last year. While teens from many backgrounds experience anxiety, it’s often the more affluent families who find the problem most baffling. Adults aren’t surprised when teens from poor neighborhoods feel anxious about safety or home dynamics, but it can be harder to understand what’s going on with kids who seem to have everything going for them.
In reality, privileged youths are among the most emotionally distressed young people in America, however. They are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic, and this is made worse by an overwhelming amount of contempt and scorn for the idea that kids who have it all might be hurting. For many of these students, the biggest single stressor is that they never get to the point where they feel they have done enough. There is always one more activity, one more A.P. class, or one more thing to do in order to get into a top college. Modern high schoolers have a constant sense that they’re simply not measuring up, and the relentless pressure is getting worse every year.
Though many people assume teens feel this stress because of helicopter parents who do too much for their kids, that assumption may be faulty. Some psychologists are saying the adolescents they see are driving themselves crazy, and many parents don’t know how to help. It can be extremely difficult to figure out when pushing your child is going to help her because she needs to face her fears, or when it is going to make the situation worse and cause an increase in anxiety or even a panic attack.
Teens are struggling against their own worst instincts, but perhaps the larger question here is about the messages they are receiving from the world around them. How can educators help kids understand there’s more than one correct path and multiple ways of being successful in the world? Check out our next post for some ideas.
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