I’ve been a high school teacher for 19 years now. I’ve taught in six different school districts. I’ve lived in nine states.
Teens have always dealt with stress. I dealt (and still deal) with stress. But more and more, it seems that teens are not dealing with necessarily MORE stress, but they know LESS how to cope with it.
The other day we were taking an online quiz in my AP Language and Composition class. The internet was down, and you would have thought the world was going to end. The stress and anxiety rippled through the room like a sonic boom. I felt the unraveling as it began on one end of the class and flew to the other.
I told the kids to slow down and just take a breath.
What have we done – education, society, parents, life – that has enabled this breakdown to occur? And over a simple internet issue?
I have my own 13 (almost 14) year old. And I am no expert. But here are a few things I use with my students to help them learn mechanisms to cope with stress.
- Stop and breathe. Just like I mentioned earlier, helping students just stop all the thoughts and breathe is a great start. Push away from the desk, put down the book or laptop or iPad and close your eyes. Count to ten.
- Consider the gravity. Students are convinced that every quiz, every assignment, every test could be the one that determines their worth for the rest of their lives (I am not exaggerating this). I am not sure what the source is – teachers, parents, other students – but I often ask them how much this will matter tomorrow, in a week, a month, or a year. Consider the gravity and then treat this moment as such.
- Take time every day to do something you love. I teach seniors. They are applying for college, working a job, doing school, balancing sports and music and academics. Encourage them to BLOCK OUT time every day to do something they love. Or just sit and do nothing. They need to debrief just as much as we do.
- Look outward. When I am the most stressed, I do something for someone else. Students, just because of their development, get caught in their own “selves” quite a bit. If we help them to get perspective and consider someone else’s plight, it helps them worry less about their own. Help your kids do kind things for others so they can, in turn, be kind to themselves.
- LET THEM BE KIDS LIKE THEY ACTUALLY ARE. I disagree with the idea that the minute these kids turn 18, they are adults. Because they are not. There is not enough of a change from the day before their birthday to the day after their birthday. They need to sled, play, laugh, hang out, and BE KIDS. Every day. There is a lot of pressure in high school to “prepare them for college”. And we need to. Prepare them. But when do they just GET TO BE IN HIGH SCHOOL?
This is not the “end all be all” answer to teenagers and stress. But it’s a start. One day in class, I told the kids we were going to take five minutes and DO NOTHING. Literally NOTHING. Some kids slept, some played with the play-doh I keep on each table. Some just stared into space. Others drew or scribbled. But when the five minutes were up, they all breathed a little easier and thanked me. They were ready to face the day.
We need to teach our kids these coping mechanisms. We need to teach OURSELVES these coping mechanisms. Life is too short to rush through life STRESSED OUT. I’m not sure when we attached stress to our worth, but the two ARE NOT CONNECTED. Busy does not give us worth. We need to communicate that to our kids.