Think your nerves are frayed by the end of the work week? Try carrying a pre-college academic load; squeezing in swim-team practice, saxophone lessons, drama club, and homework; and living up to parent and teacher expectations for impeccable grades—all while maintaining a social life.
“We want these successful kids, but they’re not going to live long enough to enjoy their success because of all these pressures and stresses that are put on them so early in their lives,” says Village Pediatric Group’s Dr. McGowan.
Some kids handle stress better than others, but when an adolescent is prone to anxiety and has no parental structure, the situation can spiral out of control. That’s what happened to “John,” a freshman athlete at one of the area’s “high-power high schools,” who started seeing Scarsdale psychologist Dr. Adam S. Weissman for anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The 14-year-old would ignore homework until late in the evening and then spend hours making things perfect, until turning in at 3 or 4 am. Daytime fatigue affected his classwork and worsened his anxiety.
John’s now on an enforced sleep schedule and nightly routine. Before bedtime, he records his anxious thoughts, and when he reviews them in the morning, things always seem much better. With the addition of cognitive behavioral therapy, his anxiety and OCD, as well as his grades, have improved, Weissman reports.
Stressed-out teens may even turn to alcohol or drugs, or suffer from depression, sleep problems, or aggression, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. “Stress in their lives is a significant underlying cause of most of the suicidal and self-injurious behavior [like cutting] that we see,” says Gilberto Velez-Domenech, MD, chief of Adolescent Medicine at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. Suicide, in fact, is the third leading cause of death among US adolescents aged 15 to 19, according to federal data.
What parents can do: Teens aren’t always complainers, so don’t assume all’s well if your child doesn’t speak up, Dr. Velez-Domenech cautions. He says sharing at least one meal a day will help keep lines of communication open with your teen.