These past weeks have been nothing short of crazy. As I'm writing this we are a few weeks into the mandated social distancing orders from the government. Some of you are dealing with a loved one diagnosed with COVID-19, a child may have missed a major life event due to the quarantine, and some have been laid off or are struggling financially.
Life looks different, doesn’t it?
We can’t change what is happening with the world, but we CAN change our mindset around it.
We are all trying to manage fear, stress, anxiety, boredom, disappointment, loneliness, scarcity, and friendships. Many of us are also feeling grief. Grief for what we may have lost. Jobs, activities, birthday parties, money, commencements, and more.
Did you know 7 out of 10 American teens say anxiety and depression are major issues kids their age face? That's according to Pew Research Center and it's the number one problem teens reported--bigger than bullying, addiction and gangs and this was pre-COVID.
In the short term, stress can push a child to practice for her part in the school play or inspire a teen to study when he’d rather be out with friends. But chronic stress is different. Research says that even how you perceive stress can make a difference on how your body is affected by it.
Left unchecked, long-term stress can contribute to a long list of physical and mental health problems. Prolonged stress can cause high blood pressure, weaken the immune system and contribute to diseases such as obesity and heart disease. It can also lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression—disorders that are becoming more common in youth.
Stress in young people doesn’t always look like stress in adults. But like adults, children and teens can find healthy ways to cope. Together, young people and their parents can learn to spot the signs of excess stress and, with the right tools, manage it.
For young children, tension at home is a common source of stress. Children may be troubled by family discord or divorce, for example. Big life changes, such as a new stepparent, changing schools, or moving can also be hard on a child. That’s true even when the changes are happy ones, such as the arrival of a new sibling.
School is another frequent source of concern for kids. Young children might be stressed about making friends, dealing with bullies or getting along with their teachers. They might also be anxious about tests and grades.
As children get older, their sources of stress expand. Teens are more likely than young children to be stressed by events or situations outside the home.
But as it is for younger kids, school remains a top stressor. A 2018 APA survey also found that young people ages 15 to 21 — Generation Z — report significant stress around social issues in the news (PDF, 3.7MB), including gun violence and school shootings, rising suicide rates, climate change, treatment of immigrants and sexual harassment.
Social relationships are especially important in adolescence. Peers can help buffer stress, but can also be a source of it. Many teens worry about fitting in, their first romantic relationships and peer pressure around substance use and sex.
Signs of stress in youth can show up in a number of ways:
Facing stressors is a fact of life, for children and adults. We can't and don't always want to shield our children from stressors. It's important to let them learn to cope when "life happens". First with smaller things to help them build confidence for the bigger things. However these strategies can help keep some stress in check:
Parents and other caregivers have an important part to play, by adopting their own healthy habits and helping children and teens find stress-managing strategies. Some ways parents can take action:
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