Why are Today’s Kids So Stressed Out?
Naperville youth survey yields insights into why teens often feel overburdened
Patricia Schacht “definitively didn’t know what I was getting into” the day she met KidsMatter Executive Director IdaLynn Wenhold for coffee.
Wenhold asked the North Central College associate professor and developmental psychologist to help the not-for-profit Naperville organization develop and administer a youth survey about types of stress children face. A similar survey was completed a decade ago.
“It’s been an interesting ride,” says Schacht about the busy two years since.
Given in conjunction with two area school districts, the survey comprised 38 questions, many allowing free response answers and anecdotes. It was completed by 4,700 seventh and tenth graders.
“One of the coolest things was that the kids were so appreciative that we were asking questions — they really wanted to talk, they took this seriously. We said, ‘Tell us what we can do to help’ and they did.”
Schacht found their answers mature, articulate and fascinating. “Several students said, ‘Just doing the survey is a start because you’re asking us, not talking at us.’”
The survey was designed for Naperville, but the issues children described are “unfortunately global,” says Schacht. “The stressors didn’t surprise us, and I would think many suburbs are the same, though I don’t have the data. That’s a goal — branching out and helping other kids.”
The original survey found children 10 years ago were stressed by competition, material possessions and over-scheduling. This time it was too much homework, getting good grades and competition with peers in academics and athletics. Surprisingly, being over-scheduled is “not a thing — they’re just kind of used to it.”
Stress due to technology was at the root of many comments. “When I was a kid, if I wasn’t invited to a party, I didn’t know it. Now it’s all online — that type of stress is a factor. They know it all, you didn’t know you were missing out before,” says Schacht. “Cyberdynamics can be cruel with everything that is posted — that stresses out adults. You can only imagine a 15-year-old.”
Even parents posting and boasting about their children can be a problem. The three things that caused children the most stress on a daily basis surprised Schacht: pressure from their parents, conflicts with parents and pressure from themselves.
“The pressure the kids are putting on themselves is surprising and heartbreaking,” says Schacht. “They feel they have to do the best and be the best at all times. They’re setting these expectations for themselves. That causes them to be unhealthy.”
Schacht suggests parents should want the best for their children instead of pushing them to be the best.
“Recognizing what’s happening in your kid’s life, instead of ‘you have to get here.’”
The agencies involved in the survey have two goals — teaching students more about mental health and teaching them how to cope with stress in healthier ways. Other ideas include partnering tenth grade mentors with seventh graders, and having college students mentor tenth graders.
“Who are they going to talk to about stress? They won’t necessarily go to a counselor or parents. To have someone who has been there and done that would be great,” says Schacht.
Though stress is inevitable and near-universal, problems arise when “it is chronic, overwhelming and happening daily. That’s when it turns into health issues, physically and mentally.”
Another surprise, even to the 11-year Naperville resident, was the community’s dedication to helping children.
“My husband grew up in a small town in Wisconsin where everyone knew everyone. They didn’t talk about this stuff. He couldn’t imagine the police chief sitting around trying to help kids feel less stressed — he was surprised in a good way.”
Schacht’s daughter’s teacher asked recently if all was well at home, explaining that the girl mentioned Schacht had been spending a lot of time at the police station. Schacht laughs.
“The fact that I’m on a first-name basis with the police chief (Robert Marshall) because he wants to help kids is an amazing dynamic of Naperville,” says Schacht, a mother of two. “So many people want to help to prevent negative outcomes in the future.”
Including a certain professional who is volunteering so much of her time it almost seems criminal.Edit Module