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Teens Rank Anxiety And Depression As Major Problems Among Their Peers

Focus on your children and what activities are most important to them.

The Pew Research Center reports that seven out of ten US teenagers cite anxiety and depression as major problems among their peers. Teens disclose concerns about mental health more often than bullying, drug addiction or alcohol abuse. They also say that the number one pressure they face is trying to get good grades. Yes, there’s pressure to look good, to be a good athlete, and to fit in, but the pressure to perform well in school is the worst.

Colleges are responding in a variety of ways. The Chronicle of Higher Education described how some colleges are adopting a new role as a “facilitator,” encouraging students to make healthy choices by implementing a myriad of new programs, coursework and incentives. Emory University now requires all freshmen to take “Health 100: It’s Your Health,” a course that aims to get students to make healthier choices to improve their well-being, including diet and mental health.

Wake Forest University created an office of well-being that among other things offers free coaching to students in areas such as stress-management, goal setting and resiliency. Given the rise of mental health problems among teens, many colleges are feeling increasingly responsible for serving the whole student.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the United States, affecting nearly one-third of both adolescents and adults. Anxiety can have a serious negative impact on a teenager’s health and the college admissions process can induce anxiety in both children and their parents

We as parents and educators must help our children take steps to reduce stress and to prioritize their health. The Making Caring Common Project at The Harvard University Graduate School of Education offers these tips to get started:

Consider putting limits on the number of times students retake standardized tests.

•Start with your children. Help your children think through what types of activities will be engaging and valuable to them and how they might pursue these activities. Engage in the complex choreography of leading and following—guide your children toward activities that they express interest in and then check in to see if an activity really resonates with them. Encourage your children to choose activities that they have a legitimate interest in—not those that they think admission officers will value. 

•Consider reducing activities and AP courses. Encourage your children to focus on those activities that they truly care about and insist that they reduce activities if they are overloaded and stressed. Talk to your children about the amount and type of advanced coursework that is right for them.

•Look at the big picture. Find the time and space to have relaxed conversations with your children about their activities and how they relate to their goals. Consider these types of questions: Why is this activity meaningful to you? What goals does it achieve? What have you learned about yourself, others, and your communities? These conversations are important in themselves, but they can also help your children develop a clearer sense of what energizes them and can help you get to know your children in a different and deeper way. In addition, when your children are more aware of their own goals and passions, they will be better prepared for college applications.

•Set a limit for standardized tests. Discourage children from taking the same standardized test more than twice. The Making Caring Common Project at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education published The Turning The Tide Report in 2016, encouraging high school students to focus on meaningful and ethical engagement and minimize achievement pressure. Many of the Turning The Tide report endorsers make the point that taking standardized exams more than two times rarely improves student scores. Instead, repeating these tests can leave students feeling anxious and takes away attention from other meaningful activities.

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