Stressed-Out Students—How Parents Can Help

Stressed All the Time

Ask high school students about college and you’ll probably hear enthusiastic responses about academic achievement and future success. These students may seem eager, but what may not be apparent is how much pressure they are under to perform at an accelerated level.

A 2018 poll from Globe Newswire revealed that 45% of teens say they feel stressed “all the time.” This finding should not be ignored, especially because of the hidden dangers associated with excessive stress. Rising competitiveness in college admissions is one of many factors contributing to increased stress among high school students.

Future and Uncertainty

Embarking on an uncertain path is a major source of stress for high school students. Young adults face a difficult transitional period after graduating high school, which some refer to as “entering the real world.” Your child will most likely carry a great deal of uncertainty as he or she grapples with how to handle the demands of college.

Choosing a Fulfilling Career Path

Deciding on a career or choosing a college major can be challenging and stressful. Students are worried about making the wrong choice because they don’t want to waste time pursuing a career they’re not fully invested in. The fear is that they’ll end up being unhappy in a soul-sucking job.

It turns out that one of the most important things that millennials look for in a career is a sense of fulfillment. Finding the answer to what you want to do for the rest of your life takes careful thought and consideration. This is not a decision that most students take lightly.

Pressure to Go to College Right Away

The pressure to go to college right away can cause anxiety for high schoolers. Everyone matures at different rates, and some require more time to feel fully equipped to handle college courses. Jumping into something that you’re not prepared for (academically, emotionally, or financially) often results in dropping out early.

Fear of Failure

At the core of high school student stress is the fear of failure. No one wants to drop out of college or disappoint their parents. Because of this, teenagers are trying their best to avoid failing at all costs. They don’t want to jeopardize their futures and they’re painfully aware of all the ways it might go wrong. Your child might feel pressured to constantly do the right thing, which can add to their mental pressure and anxiety.

Funding a College Education

How to pay for college is a real concern for prospective college students. Even with their parents’ support, most teenagers don’t have the savings to cover college costs. This can put teens in a discouraging position. Trying to figure out how to pay for college can be daunting, especially if you’re not familiar with the options available to ease the burden of these expenses. All of these uncertainties can make high schoolers feel like they’re floundering even before their first semester of college begins.

Leaving Home for the First Time

Another stress factor in a student’s life is the thought of being separated from family and friends. New college students will be bombarded with the unfamiliar and may feel like they’re completely on their own. Other thoughts that might cause distress include:

What if I don’t get along with my future roommate(s)?

How will I stay on top of my school work, and also take care of basic tasks (like laundry or feeding myself)?

I’ve never been on my own before, and I don’t know if I can handle it.

Parental Influence

Parents can have a huge influence on a student’s anxiety. The easiest way to find out about your child’s stress is by talking to him or her directly. While high expectations might be beneficial to your child’s academic success, too much pressure can do the opposite. Try to put yourself in their shoes as you help guide them through this crucial period in their life.

Feeling Overwhelmed

With all the anxiety surrounding entering college, plus the demands of finishing high school, students can feel extremely overwhelmed. They may have hours of homework to complete at night after spending all day at school. Having a poor work-life balance may also be adding to your child’s stress.

Stress Management for Students

Step 1: Make a Plan

There are many causes of student stress, but thankfully there are also easily obtainable solutions. The first step to managing worry about the future is to make a plan. If your student knows how something is going to be handled, he or she will have less anxiety. Some things to plan ahead for are: researching financial aid options, writing down important deadlines (FAFSA, SAT/ACT/ Scholarships), and noting college admission requirements.

Step 2: Reach out to Current Students

Another strategy to managing stress is by talking to current college students about what college is actually like. This can help teens realize that college isn’t as frightening as they imagined. Current students can be reached in your community, on college tours, in online forums or in social media groups.

Step 3: Take a Break

Another simple way to reduce mental strain is by taking a break. Having free time can be highly beneficial because it will not only help control stress, but it can also boost productivity. If your child is worried about going to college right away or is burnt out from high school, a total break from school in the form of a gap year might be the solution. Research has shown that students who took a gap year felt it significantly improved their overall well-being.

Step 4: Provide a Safe Haven

Lastly, one of the best things you can do to help ease stress in your high schooler is to act as their safe haven. Much as a young child looks to his or her parents while trying out the playground for the first time, your adult child will also seek the safety of parental support when venturing out into the world. Meet that need by being there for your child. Reassure them that they have a place to return to in times of need. Encourage confidence by providing your child with protection, comfort, and appreciation. The safety and comfort they feel will help them become self-reliant individuals.

Your student’s stress about college is almost unavoidable, but it is manageable. Proper preparation, support, and knowledge are the keys to helping students handle college stress in stride. Adjusting will no doubt take some time but realizing that they’re well on their way will make the transition go as smoothly as possible.


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