Are we stressing out our kids?
Stressed out, over-scheduled, hurried: These words are often used to describe children these days.
Watch for these signs of distress in a student
In young children:
- Thumb sucking
- Hair twirling
- Difficulty leaving parents
In children of all ages:
- Changes in eating habits
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Feelings of sadness on a daily basis for more than two weeks at a time
- Signs of self-mutilation, such as wearing long sleeves all the time
- Talk of suicide, even in a joking way
- Trouble breathing
- Reluctance to go to school or to scheduled activities
- Persistent fatigue
- Trouble completing homework on a regular basis
- Behavioral changes, such as mood swings or acting out
- Trouble concentrating
- Defying authority
- Marijuana, alcohol or prescription drug use
By Marian Wilde , GreatSchools Staff
Are we unwittingly lowering the quality of life for those we mean to nurture? Are we degrading childhood by demanding ever more of our children? Many parents worry about these questions, as students report that they're feeling stressed out.
"I have been really stressed because of the homework that is being assigned," a middle-school student from Utah recently wrote in an email to GreatSchools. "In pre-algebra, we get at least three pages of homework. In English, we get at least one page and a reading assignment, at least 30-50 pages in our books. Then there is science, five-six pages are assigned all days except Friday. In Utah studies, we get one page with the option of extra credit, which is another page. In French, we have to do two to three pages of verbs in the French dictionaries. In Spanish, 80 flashcards are assigned two days before the test. As you can see, I don't take any extra activities because I don't have time!"
Stress on the rise
"Everyone has their own way of measuring stress, depression being one measure," says Denise Clark Pope, author of "Doing School" How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students. "But the consensus is that there are more stressed-out kids."
One recent study from the Stanford School of Medicine indicates that the number of children, ages 7-17, treated for depression more than doubled between 1995 and 2001.
What's causing the stress?
From kindergarten through high school, the causes of childhood stress are numerous. One of the most commonly cited is standardized-test stress, which starts in first-grade in many states.
High-stakes tests, such as the TAKS in Texas and the FCAT in Florida, are particularly stressful, for students and teachers alike. Students in certain grades must pass these tests to advance to the next grade. In Florida, children as young as 8 years old face the prospect of being held back if they fail the test. Whether you are for them or against them, high-stakes test create considerable stress.
And while experts are debating whether homework loads are in fact heavier now than in the past, many agree that it is being assigned at an earlier age than before.
Another source of school-related stress occurs in high school where more students are taking more rigorous classes, such as Advanced Placement (AP) classes offered by the College Board. In the past 25 years, there has been explosive growth in the number of students taking AP classes, with one-quarter of all high-school graduates having taken at least one in 2004. In addition, more high-school students are now taking the PSAT twice and the SAT and ACT at least once, if not multiple times.