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Glenbrook North senior Rachel Mintz models for our cover. (Mash illustration/Photo by Olivia Godnik, Glenbrook North)

Glenbrook North senior Rachel Mintz models for our cover. (Mash illustration/Photo by Olivia Godnik, Glenbrook North)

Millennials’ stress level top their parents’

By Laura Bartusiak
Woodlands Academy
Elani Kaufman
Lincoln Park
and Joe Hendrix
Williams Prep

On a scale of one to 10, how stressed do you feel? One feels likes brushing your hair, and 10 feels like pulling it out. The average American teen ranked their stress level at 5.8 during the school year, according to a recent study published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

That number may sound normal, but when you consider the average adult ranked their stress level at 5.1 on the same scale, it may seem more alarming. In 2012, the APA found that Millennials (ages 18-33) and Gen Xers (ages 34-47) ranked their stress equally—at 5.4. The APA particularly focused on 13- to 17-year-olds in the 2013 study.

Although stress is an inevitable part of life, it appears to be hitting teens harder than ever.

And there’s more. The latest study also found that 42 percent of teens said they’re not doing enough or aren’t sure they’re doing enough to curb their stress. Thirteen percent said they never make time to manage stress.

“Teens are dealing with multiple demands of school, peers and family,” said Dr. Michelle Cutler, a clinical psychologist in Chicago. “It’s a lot of pressure.”
Evanston clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Kincaid agreed.

“I think adolescence is a peak time of stress throughout the lifespan,” Kincaid said. “There are particular events occurring in adolescence, which can be very stressful in both a positive and negative way. For example, a lot of firsts are occurring: first dates, first time driving, first time having more independence, first jobs.”

While those firsts have been around for decades, the demanding school workload and pressure to get into a good college seem to be at an all-time high.

Lyons Township surveyed their students last fall and found that 79 percent of students said academic stress is a problem. Seventy-five percent of teachers and 53 percent of parents agreed.

“I think over five hours of homework a night is too much to put on a person and expect them to complete each assignment well,” said Lyons Township junior Gillian Dunlop about her workload. “If you think about it, it’s almost another full school day just in your home.”

Dunlop said that because of extracurriculars she doesn’t get home until 10 p.m. on some school nights. After homework, she operates on a five hours-a-night sleep schedule and sometimes less, she said.

Dunlop isn’t alone.

“My stress is caused by the ACT, two AP classes and having to keep my GPA (up) for college,” said Alec Kuznitsky, a junior at Fremd.

Margaret Andersen, a junior at Woodlands Academy, said it’s not the individual school assignments that make her feel stressed—it’s the overwhelming feeling of having so much to do.

“Most of the time, there is something I am stressed about, whether it is school or a club,” she explained. “A lot of my stress is not necessarily individual things, but when I have a lot of things to do and I have nowhere to start.”

Add college to the mix, and the anxiety rises.

“All of the worries of whether or not you’re doing good in school and whether or not you are going to get into a good college are always on a teenagers’ minds despite what people may think,” said Von Steuben junior Michael Torres.

It’s no surprise that stress can worsen with constant exposure to social networks like Facebook, where some teens reveal what colleges they’ve been accepted to, how much scholarship money they received and other bragging rights.

“There is the 24-7 ongoing media demands, and people do not know how to take care of their inner lives by caring for themselves and turning off the media,” said Kincaid, the psychologist.

The APA found that 39 percent of teen girls said that how others perceive them on social media is a significant cause of stress; 29 percent of teen boys said the same.

But in some cases, pressure can actually work in your favor. Think about the last time your stress made you buckle down and put 100 percent of your effort into an assignment. “Positive effects of stress in (small) doses can help us sharpen our inner resources for dealing with adversity,” Kincaid said.

But like most things, there’s a fine line.

“When I’m stressed I’m the most efficient,” said Andersen, the Woodlands student. “But sometimes I’m so stressed that I can’t get things done.”

And while teens said they know they’re stressed, some just don’t know how to fix it.

“Sometimes I overdo trying to not stress out, and sometimes I end up crying,” said Taylor Cummings, a junior at Williams Prep.

The APA study found that teens often look to their parents to learn how to deal with stress. However, nearly 44 percent of adults said they’re either not doing enough or aren’t sure if they’re doing enough to manage their stress.

Lane Tech junior Diego Garcia said he’s learned stress-management skills from his parents. His dad does outdoor chores and his mom reads and practices yoga. Garcia said he’s found his own release.

“I myself take karate lessons, which teach how to relieve stress through meditating and practicing forms,” he said.

Everyone is different, but Cutler, the psychologist, said there’s a good place to start. “The first step is recognizing when (you) are stressed or overwhelmed and the effects the stress is having on (your) life. The next step is to ask for help,” she explained.

Kincaid said she recommends getting enough sleep and exercise while also knowing when to turn off the TV and log off of Facebook.

Creating quiet time in your day can also help, whether you listen to music, write in a journal or meditate.

“Stress can’t be avoided—it’s a fact of life,” Kincaid said. “We can choose to eliminate some things in our lives that are creating more stress than need be.”

* * * * *

What’s stressing you out?

The three most commonly reported sources of stress for teens are:
83% school
69% getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school
65% financial concerns for their families
Source: American Psychological Association “Stress in America” study

How do you handle stress?

The most commonly reported stress management techniques are:
67% listening to music
46% playing video games
43% going online
43% spending time with family
37%  exercise or walking

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The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free each Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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