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Helping Your Teen Cope with End-of-School-Year Tests

Sep 27, 2017, 10:53 AM

Dr. Katherine Nordal is a licensed psychologist experienced in treating adults, children and adolescents and has clinical expertise in the treatment of stress-related disorders. As executive director for the APA Practice Directorate, Dr. Nordal manages a variety of activities involving legislative advocacy, legal initiatives, efforts to shape the evolving health care market, and a nationwide public education campaign ― including the Mind/Body Health campaign ― to communicate the value of psychology.

Test TakingAs the school year draws to a close, and as students prepare for final  exams, standardized tests, and college admissions exams, their ability to deal with all of these pressures may be pushed to the maximum.

Recent findings from a survey on stress may come as a surprise to many of you: Teens report stress levels that are comparable to adults.  Adults ask how it is possible that teens – without the grown-up pressures of work, money and family responsibilities — can feel so stressed. What is it that they really have to worry about?

According to the Stress in America survey by American Psychological Association, there are a few things that are causing most teens significant stress.  School is the most frequently cited cause of stress for youth  ages 13-17, followed by the pressure of getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school.  And the stress is affecting their emotional and physical health. It causes them to neglect responsibilities, feel overwhelmed, have negative thoughts and  changes in sleeping habits. More than a third reported feeling tired, feeling nervous or anxious, or experiencing irritability and anger.

Parents and other adults can play a significant role in helping teens better manage their stress. Children model their behaviors after the adults in their lives. The most important way a parent can help a child better manage stress is to be a good role model for stress management. When adults practice good stress management techniques, they are helping  their children to adopting better habits.

Here are a few other ways that parents and adults can help teens better manage stress and get through final exams.

Recognize the symptoms. Don’t ignore the warning signs: irritability, anger, excessive worry, insomnia or sleeping difficulties are common signs of stress in young people.  

Communicate.  If you notice the stress warning signs in your teen, speak up. Talk to him or her. Let your teens tell you what they have on their plate, and listen without trying to minimize or lecture. Try to spend some undivided, one-on-one time each week with your teen. While talking with your teen, really listen to what he or she has to say, share any positive thoughts or feelings you are having and let your teen know what you value about his or her perspective.

Get moving. Physical activity is one of the best ways to manage stress. Encourage your teens to take breaks for physical activities that they enjoy, especially when they seem to have limited time.  Even a 15 minute walk outside makes a difference. You can also set a positive example for your family by exercising together or encouraging physical activity as a part of family time.

Get enough sleep. When stress spikes, sleep often suffers. At the same time, too little sleep can make stress that much worse. If you notice your teen trying to pull an all-nighter, talk about it. Limiting screen time and stimulating activities in the evening can help your teen fall asleep earlier, so that he or she is better rested when the alarm buzzes.

Create and keep rituals. Routines and rituals are reassuring for children and teens, and can be especially comforting during stressful times. Daily family rituals, such as a regular family meal, are important to maintain during these stressful times. It can be hard for families to make the time for dinners, but they are an example of a type of ritual that gives teens a chance to debrief from the stress of their day while allowing you a regular opportunity to check in with your teen.

Seek professional help. If you’re concerned about your child’s stress right now, consider enlisting help. Talk to your child’s school psychologist or counselor about how you can work together to help your child manage the workload or develop coping skills to better handle their stress.

It’s important for parents and adults to recognize when a teen’s stress, regardless the source, may be interfering with their well-being and ability to cope.  Identifying the symptoms and seeking early and effective professional help are critical for educational achievement, as well as long-term health and happiness.

I invite you to join the National PTA and American Psychological Association on Sunday, May 4 at 7 p.m. ET/ 4 p.m. PT for an important conversation: How to Tell When a Kid is Emotionally Struggling.

Psychologist Dr. Mary Alvord will speak frankly with parents and educators about how to recognize when your teen is struggling, and what to do about it when you know a child or teen needs help.

Click to register for web viewing or audio listening. Follow the conversation on May 4 at #NationalPTA.

National PTA and the American Psychologist Association (APA) are working together to provide families with resources and tips on emotional and physical health issues. Stay tuned for more collaborative posts on the National PTA One Voice Blog and the APA Your Mind, Your Body blog.