Skip to main content

SOS for stressed out teens

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 0430 GMT (1230 HKT)
When Traci Garcia's 19-year-old daughter feels super stressed out, Garcia (the co-owner of a spa) treats her to a facial. "It's a full hour of uninterrupted relaxation that she appreciates," said Garcia of Harwood Heights, Illinois. When Traci Garcia's 19-year-old daughter feels super stressed out, Garcia (the co-owner of a spa) treats her to a facial. "It's a full hour of uninterrupted relaxation that she appreciates," said Garcia of Harwood Heights, Illinois.
HIDE CAPTION
Want to lower your teen's stress?
Want to lower your teen's stress?
Want to lower your teen's stress?
Want to lower your teen's stress?
Want to lower your teen's stress?
Want to lower your teen's stress?
Want to lower your teen's stress?
Want to lower your teen's stress?
Want to lower your teen's stress?
Want to lower your teen's stress?
Want to lower your teen's stress?
Want to lower your teen's stress?
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nearly 40% of parents say their kids are stressed from school, according to a new poll
  • Growing up with social media means today's teens have less time to truly unplug
  • Parents contribute to kids' stress by not knowing how to cope with their own, experts say
  • Mindfulness activities such as "quiet time" are helping students lower their stress at school

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Ask parents of teens if their children are more stressed than they were at the same age, and they'll usually tell you, "Absolutely."

"I went to a high school that at the time was considered one of the 10 best high schools in the country, and I think in high school I had less advanced work than they have now," said Nancy Friedman of New York, referring to her 13-year-old twins,

"They are writing real research papers ... much more is expected of them," said Friedman, who is co-founder of a video sharing platform for tweens called KidzVuz.

Teens are feeling the pressure of more demanding curriculum, longer homework sessions, high-stakes testing and more competitive college admissions, according to a new poll.

The poll, conducted by NPR along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, found that nearly 40% of parents said their high school kids are experiencing a lot of stress from school.

"They have to do their AP (advanced placement) work, they have to be in honors classes, and it's not just enough to be in them, but they have to excel," said Jaclyn Bealer, who spends her summers training teens to be counselors at a camp in Branchville, New Jersey.

"They're just putting so much pressure on themselves to get the absolute best grade possible, and anything under a 90% is failure," said Bealer.

Generation stressed: teens boiling over
Talking to teens about social media
How 'selfies' can boost self-confidence
Schools to monitor student social media
D.A. warns parents about Ask.fm
Are these sexy selfies too far for kids?

Friedman, the mom of twins, knows that firsthand. Her daughter Rachel "literally will be upset if she gets a 98 instead of 100 on something," she said during a family interview at her home.

"I do not like getting below a 100," Rachel admitted with a laugh.

Social media adds to the stress

Today's teens, unlike when I was growing up, can now compare their academic performance and everything else about their existence to other teens 24 hours a day through updates on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, you name the social network, and that only increases the stress.

"Back in the day, we got a break from our peers after school and on the weekends, but now kids are on social media all day long," said Linda Esposito, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in Los Angeles and host of a blog on psychotherapy called Talk Therapy Biz.

READ: The upside of selfies: Social media isn't all bad for kids

Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and author of the New York Times best-seller "Emotional Intelligence," says all the social media and advanced technology mean more distractions for kids and less time to truly unplug.

"It used to be that children had time to look at clouds and imagine," said Goleman, whose latest book is "Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence." "Now they're looking at video games and are competing with some kid in Hong Kong."

Pressure from parents

Teens aren't just feeling stress from academic pressures. Their schedules are also filled with activities and sports after school and on weekends, raising questions for us parents about whether our children are overscheduled and whether we, as parents, are pushing them to do too much.

"There's a little fallacy that we have to enrich our children's experience with every kind of lesson and every kind of sport and every kind of club, and that backfires at a certain point," said Goleman.

Parents who want the best for their kids get into trouble when it becomes like "over-wanting," said Ben Bernstein, a stress psychologist and author of "A Teen's Guide to Success: How to be Calm, Confident & Focused" as well as a book about stress-reduction techniques for test-taking.

READ: How not to be a scary stage parent

"It could be their own self-esteem is tied into that. It could be that they didn't have the kind of chances that their child had," said Bernstein, who says parents sometimes also have their own hopes and goals for their child that might not mesh with what the child wants to do.

"In that sense, they lose touch with what is happening with their kid," he said.

Bealer, the camp supervisor, says plenty of teens feel like their parents don't give them space to be themselves.

"One of the biggest things that I hear is kids don't necessarily feel that they're being listened to, and that they're being told a lot of what to do," she said.

What they get at camp, she says, is "just having someone to listen to them and not judge them for maybe what their dreams may be or what they're worried about, not minimalizing their worries."

Parents also contribute to their teens' stress by not figuring out how to cope with their own stress, said Lori Lite, who created the parenting site Stress Free Kids after the stresses of parenting were starting to make her sick.

"Many parents demonstrate unhealthy coping mechanisms and live a full-blown stressed out lifestyle," said Lite. "Teens learn and internalize these messages."

READ: Overscheduled kids, anxious parents

How to lower the stress

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace talked to parents, teens, psychologists and other experts about why our teens are feeling so stressed.
CNN's Kelly Wallace talked to parents, teens, psychologists and other experts about why our teens are feeling so stressed.

Now that we know some of the reasons why our teens may be feeling more stressed out than we did as kids, what can we do about it?

We asked CNN's Facebook community and received a ton of great tips included in the gallery above, everything from Merin Dahlerbruch of Rancho Palos Verdes, California encouraging her 17-year-old to pick up a trumpet to Traci Garcia of Harwood Heights, Illinois, giving her daughter a facial.

We also heard a lot about teaching our children how to relax, through breathing exercises and meditation.

In fact, several schools, including one in San Francisco, have adopted what's called "quiet time," during which students meditate for 10 to 15 minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon. Some schools that have implemented the new approach report a decline in absences and suspensions, and an increase in test scores.

READ: Managing your child's stress

"Regardless of socioeconomic status or race or the type of school, public or private, I think that kids in general need to be taught how to relax, how to breathe appropriately to calm themselves, how to recognize the signs of stress," said Esposito, who uses mindfulness exercises with many of her patients.

Lite, the founder of Stress Free Kids, is a big proponent of breathing, relaxation and visualization exercises for parents and children.

When her daughter went to high school, she said, the principal "began to brag" about the amount of stress teens would experience as freshmen. Her husband wrote her a note asking, "Are they going to teach them how to manage the stress?" she told me.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

That's when Lite decided to create a CD for teens to help them manage anxiety and stress.

"If you watch teens take tests or you watch them play video games, if you watch carefully, you will also see them stop breathing," said Bernstein, the stress expert.

"Teaching kids to be calmer in their body by breathing, by learning how to keep themselves grounded, simple techniques of meditation ... things that we know work in terms of stress reduction, we should be teaching that stuff in school and parents should be doing it."

Follow Kelly Wallace on Twitter, and like CNN Living on Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 2010 GMT (0410 HKT)
A mom questions if she wants her daughters seeing a "sado-masochistic relationship, dressed up as a Hollywood love fantasy?"
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
In 2014, why is society still so incredibly uncomfortable with public breastfeeding? Kelly Wallace gets to the root of the controversy.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1442 GMT (2242 HKT)
Seven years ago, Barbara Theodosiou, then a successful entrepreneur, stopped going to meetings, leaving the house and taking care of herself. She grew increasingly distraught -- her two children were addicts.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
The situation in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, throws America's problem with talking about race into sharp relief.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 0225 GMT (1025 HKT)
Mo'ne Davis is the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series. She's an inspiration, but will she change the face of the sport?
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 0036 GMT (0836 HKT)
There is a reason why when people post pictures of themselves during their middle school years on Facebook for "Throw Back Thursday," we all stop and take notice.
It could cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise your child -- and that's not even including college costs, according to new government estimates.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 0409 GMT (1209 HKT)
From parent to son, uncle to nephew, there's a raw, private conversation being revived in America in the wake of violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Children sometimes get left out of our conversations about mental illness. The truth is, they suffer too.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 2114 GMT (0514 HKT)
CNN's Kat Kinsman says that talking freely about personal mental health and suicidal thoughts can help others.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1726 GMT (0126 HKT)
morning person
Easy tips on how to improve everything from your dinner order to the song in your head to your career.
August 7, 2014 -- Updated 1733 GMT (0133 HKT)
The case of an Arizona mom who left her kids in a car during a job interview highlights the fluid line between bad parenting and criminal behavior.
August 6, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
A children's book about gun rights has benefited from an unexpected boost in sales after it became the subject of a mocking segment on a talk show.
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Some campers and counselors keep the campfire flames burning with summer flings that become lifetime commitments.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
After letting her 7-year-old son walk from their home to a park to play, a Florida mother faces up to five years in jail for child neglect.
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 1916 GMT (0316 HKT)
Lindsey Rogers-Seitz, who lost her son in a hot car, hopes mandatory technology in cars and car seats will stop child death from heatstroke in cars.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1442 GMT (2242 HKT)
Not to mention your jeans, bras and pillows? Here's a definitive guide to keeping all your quarters clean.
Imagination Playgrounds have snaking tunnels, platforms and springy mats just like any other playground. But they're different in one fundamental way -- they're built by kids.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Grammy Award-winning singer Sarah McLachlan, a 46-year-old divorced mom of two girls, talks about parenting, sex and whether women can have it all.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1154 GMT (1954 HKT)
Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 2041 GMT (0441 HKT)
The case of a South Carolina mother arrested for allegedly leaving her 9-year-old daughter at a park while she was working sparks debate over how young is too young to leave a child alone.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1515 GMT (2315 HKT)
CNN's Kelly Wallace reveals 5 common parenting mistakes that many parents admit to making.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Is it a bad idea for parents to let kids drink underage at home, or does an early sip make drinking less taboo? Studies are divided on the subject, which is a tough nut for parents to crack.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cellphones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 1840 GMT (0240 HKT)
Professional photographer Timothy Archibald uses his camera to connect with his autistic son.
July 14, 2014 -- Updated 1316 GMT (2116 HKT)
Do you wish you could outsource the summer cooking, cleaning, and camp planning associated with kids? Here are 5 ways to do it -- and why you shouldn't feel guilty about it.
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
The death of a Georgia toddler in a hot car raises the question: should government or automakers get involved to prevent accidental deaths from heatstroke inside a car?
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
It's not just the 'baby blues.' Postpartum depression affects about 15% of new mothers. Here's what one 'warrior woman' is doing to fight it.
Post your personal essays and original photos, and tell us how it really is.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
What does it mean to run "like a girl"? A new viral video points out that the answer changes depending on whom you ask.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 2122 GMT (0522 HKT)
CNN reporter Moni Basu lived in the U.S. nearly 30 years before becoming a citizen. Here's what it meant to pledge her allegiance.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Her daughter was cut from the team. Her son didn't get into that coveted honors class. It was hard but also helpful. Here's how one mom learned to find lessons in failure.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 1556 GMT (2356 HKT)
The presence of transgender and gender nonconforming youth at NYC Pride March is latest effort to increase visibility of the transgender community.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 2227 GMT (0627 HKT)
A new ad by the hair care company Pantene asks why women are always apologizing and raises the question of whether women say "sorry" more often than men.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0048 GMT (0848 HKT)
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced new guidelines this week urging doctors to tell parents to read to their infants and toddlers.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1747 GMT (0147 HKT)
A new survey says that working fathers, like working mothers, find it hard to balance work and family.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT