9/11 week – the day that changed our country but also the day that changed a generation. The next generation is the first generation to experience terrorism on our soil and also get to witness it played out on television 24/7. I sat with students on Wednesday and and read “The Real New York Giants” the text I normally teach on 9/11 (delayed a couple of days due to Hurricane Irma). This was my first group of students who were not yet alive when the towers fell, and statistics say this is the most stressed generation to date. I’m not a psychologist (even though I do have a psychology degree – shout out to Samford U!), but I spend a lot of time (A LOT) with teenagers and have noticed some trends.
1 – Students are more stressed out and suffer from anxiety more than the years before.
2 – Students seem to be more debilitated from stress than ever.
3 – Students have very little knowledge of how to cope with stress.
Since I don’t like to give parenting advice during parent-teacher conferences, I will offer my thoughts here on how to help students deal with stress. Again, I’m no expert, but here are some thoughts.
1 – Keep a handle and even limit (yes, I said limit – parents, you have the authority and power as to do this) your child’s social media. Kids are growing up in a world where they are constantly on camera and feeling like they have to put their best foot forward at all times. Not only is being “on” exhausting but students also frequently from FOMO (fear of missing out) watching all of their friends live out their “exciting and perfect” lives on social media. There are no perfect people or perfect lives. Speak to you student about taking breaks from social media and how perceived “perfect” lives are really not perfect. I am so thankful Pinterest was not around when I was planning my kids’ birthday parties because I was able to make homemade birthday cakes and host a modest party without feeling any guilt.
2 – Turn the news off. Watching the news for 15 minutes stresses me out; no wonder kids are stressed out with the 24-hour coverage of world terrorism, natural disasters, and tragedies. Yes, we should be informed, but we don’t have to have the news on every single hour of the day. Talk to your kids about what’s going on in the world and help them unpack what is happening around them but turn the tv off more.
3 – Don’t be a helicopter parent. Many students (not my blog readers’ kids I’m sure) have never been allowed to solve their own problems or experience failure because a parent rushes in to fix things for them. Allowing a student to struggle does not mean that you don’t care about him or her but rather the opposite. Because you care, you will allow your child to face some difficulty and disappointment because this prepares them to handle problems on their own. Practice handling small problems as a child and teen equip students to handle larger problems as adults.
4 – Talk to your students about dealing with stress. I often tell our youngest, who is more anxious than her siblings, to take a deep breath, or two, or three. We talk a lot about taking a small step on a big project because students are often so overwhelmed they cannot take action and end up watching hours of cats videos which leads to more stress. One small step in a project or facing a fear, however, can alleviate stress. Planning and scheduling also help because the student recognizes they have some control of their life.
5 – Put good books into their hands. Identifying with others who have gone through similar circumstances can make a difference – even if the person is a character from a novel. Since stress and anxiety often yield in isolation, just knowing others feel the same way can put a soul and mind at ease. Need further proof –
6 – Be a good role model. I rarely feel stressed but once my jaw starts aching (I’m a teeth grinder), I know I am stressed out. Taking time to talk to my children about my stress level and how I am dealing with it is good for them. They need to see my struggle in healthy doses and watch me cope. I love a good wine joke as much as anyone else, but all of the blogs and posts about mommy juice and how wine is the way to deal with parenting sends the wrong message to our kids. (However, it’s completely appropriate when in a conversation about grading essays). Talk to you kids about how you handle stress. No kids at home? Mentor a student. There are plenty of kids who have no responsible adult in their life and are longing for someone to invest in them.
7 – Exercise. Physical activity helps with stress, and most teenagers don’t get enough exercise. Encourage your kid to take a walk, ride a bike, or go to the gym. Being outside while you exercise and breathing fresh air is an added bonus. It’s good for your body, and it’s good for your soul.
8 – Be a part of a faith community or as my mom would say, “Get dressed; we’re going to church.” Acknowledging God’s sovereignty when chaos and evil abound can bring peace and calm hearts. Reading the Bible and being reminded to “seek mercy, love justice, and walk humbly with God” (along with many other commands) focuses me and gives me purpose when circumstances are spinning out of control. Memorizing verses such as Proverbs 3:5-6 (‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight”) and 1st Peter 5:7 (“Cast all your cares on him for he cares for you”) stay in your head and heart and are good reminders during times of stress.