In a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, teens reported similar stress levels to those in adults. Stress level was measured on a 10-point scale, and teens reported a stress level of 5.8, which is much higher than 3.9, the stress level which they reported was a normal level of stress. And compared to adults, teens had a slightly higher stress level of 5.8, and adults had a stress level of 5.1.
This is alarming, the high stress levels in teens, which rivals that of adult stress levels. Are young people more stressed out than generations past? It’s unclear if young people currently experience more stress than the older generations when they were young. Certainly, stress has always been present for all generations. Many experts believe there are more stressors now than ever before, but the opposite may be true, that younger people may actually have less stress than previous generations. Without data, we do not know for certain which of these opinions are true.
However, it very well may be that young people have less stress. It may not be an issue about more external stressors, but rather a problem with coping with stress. So with young people, it may not be about more stress…it’s about how you handle it and cope with it. Young people are just now learning how to cope with stress as they have not been exposed to it on their own to deal with it. Why is this? It could be a matter of birthrates and sizes of the family unit. Since the 1980s, there has been a steady decline in birthrates worldwide, so kids become more precious as there are fewer kids to pay attention to, as people are having fewer children.
When the birthrates were much higher, as with the Baby Boomers after World War II, kids were born into bigger families with multiple siblings. Parents could not just focus on one child, as there were so many kids to raise. As a result, in bigger families, a child just had to get on with it and learn how to cope with stress that came their way. So children born into bigger families had to learn to get along with other children, and they were left more to their own devices to adjust and cope with the normal stressors of life in their own way. Children learned to cope with stressors naturally, through working it out somehow in the face of more limited supervision from parents trying to raise large families.
With the current teens and generation of young people born in the 1980s and 1990s (Millennials or Generation Y), they were born into families of smaller size and had less siblings, if any. As such, kids have become more valuable and precious, so they have more attention from their parents. The problem here is that kids are not figuring things out on their own naturally, as their parents are choreographing their entire lives, the so-called “helicopter” parents who hover around their children constantly. I’m not blaming parents, but this intense focus on kids nowadays is a natural consequence of decreasing birth rates and smaller family units.
So how do you help teens and young people cope with stressors? Again, this may not be for the parents to do for their children, as the children and young people need to figure this out on their own. People need to learn to cope with stressors naturally. When people do not learn how to cope with stress, they avoid it. And the more they avoid it, the worse the stress becomes.
When you look at high achieving people and competitive athletes, they actually need optimal doses of stress to perform well…they learn to harness stress to help them develop their knowledge and skills. Healthy amounts of stress are needed to develop, so when you don’t know how to deal with stress, then you don’t develop.
So the bottom line for teens and young people…let them figure it out on their own to cope with stress, naturally. Maybe they will figure it out on their own through their own experiences, or maybe they will come across sites like this one to learn how to cope with stress on their own.