Stress: 25-Year High Among Youth

A new survey was just released on the emotional health of our youth and it revealed what many parents, professionals, and educators have suspected. The survey, “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010,” involved more than 200,000 incoming, full-time students at four-year colleges, and revealed a record level stress among freshmen in more than 25 years.

“Campus counselors say the survey results are the latest evidence of what they see every day in their offices — students who are depressed, under stress and using psychiatric medication, prescribed even before they came to college,” states The New York Times.

The cause? The survey targets the recession. The New York Times says, “The economy has only added to the stress, not just because of financial pressures on their parents but also because the students are worried about their own college debt and job prospects when they graduate.” And that statement concurs with others made by counseling professionals at some of our nation’s finest universities.

As a parent … it’s alarming. A wake-up call that I hope we all heed. Let me add to the data produced by this survey.

An upscale community in the Seattle metro area has also found that its students are also struggling with record breaking stress-related ailments as well. This school district has developed a multi-age advisory program which meets with students twice a week to, in part, teach life skills that help kids deal with stress and anxiety along with other social and academic skills. The school is a middle school. The kids are between 11 and 14 years old.

As a parent of a middle school student, I’m concerned. And truly, I know that not all of the blame can be laid at the feet of the economy. I know that some of the responsibility lies with us.

Tiger Mom comes to mind. I would imagine most of us have now expressed our opinions and insights into the parenting views of author, Amy Chua, in her newly-released memoire, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” And while we might not agree with the tough parenting style she employs, I would suspect many of us, if we were truly honest, hope for the same outcome for our children. What parent doesn’t? We want success. Period. And we want it in almost everything our kids are involved in, be it academics or sports or social or music or technological. We know, of course, that success equals happiness. And after all, what parent wouldn’t desire that for their children?

And so, we employ any and all methods that promote success. The more affluent we are … the more we can afford to perpetrate this dream. We hire tutors and trainers and coaches and experts for all aspects of our young’s lives. And when we discover that another child has a new specialist, we get creative and competitive in finding ways to incorporate it into our child’s schedule as well.

As parents, we spend our waking moments attempting to mold our children into perfect little human beings; replicas of either how we view ourselves or how we would like to view ourselves. And on top of that, we coach them continually on what to say, how to say it, and yes, even what think. I’m not referring to teaching our children values, for that is perhaps our most critical responsibility. I’m referring, instead, to the act of teaching our children that their values are subject to their environment. In other words, relative to their environment; changeable, adaptable … depending on the audience.

I point the finger not just at parents of my acquaintance and those we all view publicly, but at myself as well.

Is it no wonder, then, that our children are in danger of epidemic proportions of stress and anxiety? Is the pride one might feel of an overachieving child worth the risk to their mental health? Will it really promote that success we long for? Will that success really assure happiness?
The answers prove that we, as parents, have tough choices and decisions to make as our children reach maturity. It seems to me that one of the most vital things we can do for them is to always function as their advocate. There are so many voices out there, and they are loud and they are clear. While our kids may not always hear our instructions, believe me, they hear the voices of our society. Strong and clear messages overwhelm them daily.

I’m not advocating we walk away from our dreams of familial success and I’m not even suggesting that the instruction they receive from specialists and coaches aren’t valuable or desired. I believe they are. For me, as a parent, it comes down to balance and a watchful eye. While I may not always get it right, my goal is that when my middle school student walks into the door of our home, he will know that home is one place where he will always find security, love and acceptance. And hopefully … a place where he is guaranteed a little fun as well.

Here’s to successful and balanced kids who are as educated in their worldview as they are in algebraic formulas. Children who place as great a value on faith and family as they do on financial and social success. And here’s to parents who somehow manage to balance it all. Cheers.

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