Lily Coulter, a 17-year-old high school student from Charleston, South Carolina, isn’t sure what finally got her fired up this past March.
She was in volleyball training when she suddenly collapsed into uncontrollable sobs. It was completely out of character for Colter, the excelling academic, athlete, and now head of the first class.
“It all came quickly, but it stemmed from two weeks of prior anxiety,” she says.
“I got nervous about my schoolwork and felt like the practice was draining my time to get things done,” Lily says.
At home that evening, Kristen, Lily’s mother, heard that things were off when her daughter tried to talk about it. “I remember I just listened because what she was saying was illogical and she just needed a chance to vent,” her mother says.
After that, Lily hid in her bedroom for some time alone. She sat at her beloved piano and got lost in her music for a few hours. After some time, she was able to calm herself down.
“I’m fortunate that both times I had panic attacks, which I was able to overcome on my own,” she says.
However, Kristen Coulter was really worried about her daughter that night. The pressure to perform in school became too much. She was worried that it was starting to affect Lily’s mental health. You wonder where you will stop.
Next year, Lily plans to leave home in her freshman year of college. Lily’s mother is already nervous about it. “She has put pressure like this on herself since kindergarten. I worry how she will cope if we are not there.”
The pressure is real
The scenario is all too common, says psychologist Madeline Levine, Ph.D., and author of Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids for Success in an uncertain and rapidly changing world. Kids like Lily feel the weight of academic pressure more than ever, says psychologist Madeline Levine, Ph.D.
“Twenty-five years ago, when I asked a kid what the biggest source of stress was, he would have said there was a divorce or that he was arguing with his brother.”
“Now it’s always the pressure of school,” says Levine.
And the epidemic did not help. rates depression And anxiety in school-aged children has doubled during the pandemic, according to some studies. The source of the increase isn’t clear, says Levine, but children often internalize expectations in the culture around them.
This could be from their friends, from social media, or from their parents. “Messages are coming from everywhere, but the most remarkable ones come from your parents,” says Levine.
Tools to reduce academic stress
Here are some things parents can do to help their children keep school in a healthy perspective, says Levine:
- Avoid focusing only on grades. “If you only focus on grades, you’ll end up having an 11-year-old who thinks he’s only as good as his last performance,” she says.
- Ask questions and be curious – and not just about school performance. For example: What topics do they like? What do they not like? What clubs, teams or activities do they participate in? Do they have a healthy social group? Are they alone? “You can’t listen to your child that much,” says Levine.
- Allow unstructured time. Children and teens need to take in at least some time every day just to “tinker”. It does not have to be schoolwork or extracurricular activities planned. It is even better if this stop takes place outdoors in nature.
- Eat dinner with your children whenever possible. It’s a good opportunity to listen to problems and come up with them so that they are easier to deal with. It is also important for your child to know that the family unit protects against stress. The family is there no matter how the school goes.
- Avoid talking too much about material wealth in front of your children. Instead of talking about a fancy new car or pool for the neighbors, focus on what people are doing to help each other and their community. He tried and taught kids to appreciate the social worker, not just the genius of the Silicon Valley billionaire, says Levine.
Academic stress can manifest itself in different ways. Pay attention to significant shifts in mood or behavior. While it’s normal for kids to be in a bad mood now and then, big shifts can be a sign of more serious problems.
Some teens make it obvious. They make threats and start fights or disrupt school and social events. But these are the exceptions, says Levine. Oftentimes, school stress leads to depression, withdrawal, and anxiety.
This can be difficult to determine. You may notice excessive self-criticism, trouble sleeping, and sudden changes in body weightLoss of interest in activities they used to like, or talk about self-harm (including suicide).
In these cases, it may be time to get professional help. A doctor can recommend an appropriate mental health counselor or Psychiatrist in your area.
I look ahead
Lily Coulter knows firsthand how difficult it can be to balance academics, music, sports, friends, family, and mental health. So I took some time to think about summer, and decided to make a change.
To lift some of the pressure she felt last spring, she decided to pass to the volleyball team in her freshman year. She says that she is already feeling better about it and that she is excited about her last year of high school.