Is your teen experiencing academic stress? Are you unsure on what you can do as a parent to help reduce your teen’s academic stress? To help understand some academic challenges that teens face today and what a parent can do to help reduce their teen’s academic stress, I have interviewed psychologist Meghan Moody, Psy.D.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Calabasas and West Los Angeles, California, where I serve as Associate Director of the Family Resource Counseling Center. My diverse practice includes children, adolescents, adults, and couples with emphases on child and adolescent psychology, amicable divorce, men and depression, addiction/substance abuse, and AD/HD. I also provide a variety of psychological assessments, such as psycho-educational testing and evaluations for adoption readiness and weight loss surgery. I graduated from the California School of Professional Psychology, Los Angeles, and I was trained in psychoanalytic psychotherapy at the Wright Institute Los Angeles and in family and play therapy at the Julia Ann Singer Center in Los Angeles.”
What are some academic challenges teens face today that increases their level of stress?
“Teens today are under an inordinate amount of stress compared to their parents and grandparents. Academically-driven teens work an average of ten hours per day, including attending classes and completing homework. With extracurriculars, such as sports and community service, a high-achieving teen can easily put in up to 13-15 hours per day of work. Sleep is another important factor. The teens I see typically go to sleep between 11:00 PM and 2:00 AM, only to wake at 6:00 or 7:00 AM. It is not uncommon for a teenager to get an average of only five to six hours of sleep per night. Another added pressure is that many families must have two working parents to keep up with the rising cost of living, allowing less time for parents to support their children in the work of being a student. In addition, with college tuition costs increasing greatly, as well as the number of students entering college, there is even greater competition these days for kids to get into college, and equal pressure regarding finding a means to afford higher education. I’ve also noticed that many teens do not feel emotionally ready to enter the college “work force” and are suffering psychologically during the transition year from high school to college. Some of these students need move at a slower pace so that their emotional development can catch up with their desire for further academic achievement and the pressures that moving away from home and receiving higher education entail.”
“Another concern is that many teens are just discovering that they have a learning disorder or AD/HD. This is especially true for the academically gifted who, due to their high intelligence, had been able to overcompensate for academic difficulties in their early years. Now that academic demands have caught up with their cognitive functioning, the learning-disordered or AD/HD teen now has to learn how to cope with the deficit. For those who have been living with learning disorders and/or AD/HD all along, adolescence is the time when these kids begin to feel tapped out, because they feel they have been working so hard already in their short lives.”
What type of impact can those academic challenges have on a teen’s overall life?
“These challenges have a variety of repercussions in a teen’s life, especially regarding how teens attempt to manage stress. I see lots of kids who resort to self-destructive means and who suffer from anxiety-related issues. Especially with teen girls, the physical body is one thing in life she feels she can control. So, when all else feels overwhelming or out of control, teen girls often resort to hyper-focusing on body image, which can result in efforts to lose weight via unhealthy methods such as restricting food intake or binge/purge behaviors. Other teens take the opposite approach, which is a distortion of body image where obesity becomes a problem. Teens may resort to overeating and engage in the psychological mechanism of denial to distort the body image as not obese when it really is, so as to allow for further overeating. Alcohol and drug use are other common methods of dealing with academic stress. For the high-achieving, highly stressed teens who are not overtly self-destructive, stress is displayed through depressed mood and anxiety. Markers for depressed mood and anxiety are appetite change, sleep disturbance, irritability, avoidant behaviors, angry and/or sad outbursts, lying, acting out, lethargy, procrastination, and sullen and/or hopeless attitude. Another common thread among teens who desire and work toward a high level of academic achievement is social dysfunction. You may notice social withdrawal, anxiety in social situations, and difficulty maintaining and/or managing friendships.”
How can a parent help their teen reduce academic stress?
“Parents are a key factor in reducing teen academic stress. If parents notice any of the signs mentioned above, it is definitely time to open up the dialogue between you and your teen. Empathy and validation of the teen’s stressful experience are the most important functions a parent can have. Even if parents cannot be there all of the time due to busy work schedules, a little bit of supportive communication goes a long way. Keep in mind that a sure way to push your teen away is by overly controlling his/her academic performance. Balance is key. Start with what is positive. Find as many ways as possible to reinforce and validate the positive accomplishments your teen has made, then address the difficulties. Often I hear stories of a mostly A-grade student who reports that his/her parents only commented on the B grade, not relishing all of the other high marks the student earned.”
What type of professional help is available for a teen who is dealing with academic stress?
“There are many forms of professional help available to reduce teen academic stress, which, in turn, can improve academic performance, self-esteem, and social/family functioning. Educational tutoring, individual, family, and/or group psychotherapy, and psychological testing and assessment are examples of professional help available for teens struggling with academic stress. Of paramount importance is communication with the school to understand in what areas the student is struggling and to address any interpersonal difficulties that may have arisen between peers and between student and teacher, especially for those students who struggle with learning disorders and/or AD/HD.”
Thank you Meghan for doing the interview on how a parent can help their teen reduce academic stress. For more information on Meghan Moody or her work you can check out her website on drmeghanmoody.com.
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