With all the pressure on testing, school performance and college admissions, it is a tough time to be in high school. High schoolers often report that they are swamped with homework, have high expectations for extracurricular activities and are driven to achieve. This causes significant stress and can lead to feeling overwhelmed at school. It is important to watch for signs of stress and help your teen manage school-related stress. Here are few recommendations for parents.

Organization

Organization can be the key to success, and adolescent brains are undergoing multiple changes that improve their ability to organize and plan, but they still do not have the same skills as an adult. Therefore, helping with some basic organization strategies can assist teens in managing their workload and reducing stress.

  1. Get a planner (electronic or paper) and help them set it up and maintain it. Google offers many free applets for this, and all you need to use them is a Gmail account. Some great tools are Google Calendar for scheduling events and daily appointments like sports practices or music lessons, and Google Keep for keeping track of ongoing tasks like homework or errands.
  2. Help them learn to break down larger tasks (like writing a paper) into smaller steps (like writing an outline, doing background reading, etc.).
  3. Include accomplishment of the smaller steps in their planner/calendar so they know when they have to get each task done to get the assignment in on time.
  4. Help them plan their after school schedule to make sure they have time for extracurricular activities and homework, but also have time to relax.
  5. Extracurricular activities are great, but don’t sign up for too many.

Stress management

Teens need to learn healthy ways of managing stress. Talk to them about healthy ways to cope and put up a list in their room so they can refer to it when needed. Some ideas include:

  1. Talking to a friend or parent.
  2. Listening to music.
  3. Taking a walk, or doing any form of exercise or physical activity.
  4. Yoga.
  5. Deep breathing/muscle relaxation exercises (you can find free 5-10 minute podcasts online – for example the Healthy Steps Podcast from Mary Washington University).

If you find that helping with organization and teaching basic stress management skills isn’t working, or you’re seeing your teen continue to display significant anxiety, withdrawn behaviors, difficulty sleeping or chronic aches/pains that don’t have a medical explanation (stress often gets translated into headaches or stomachaches), it may be time to check in with a professional. Your teen’s pediatrician may be a good place to start, as is making an appointment with a psychologist.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two girls.

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