Understatement of the century: Being a teenager is not fun. We’ve all been through it–the raging hormones and mood swings, the stress of balancing school and work responsibilities, the cliques and school “hierarchies”, the pressure to succeed in school and meet the expectations of our families, the physical changing of our bodies. And that’s when people my age were teens. Add to all of that the unrelenting scrutiny on social media, and it’s not a mystery why so many teens today (31.9% of teens have some type of anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute for Mental Health) suffer from anxiety and depression.
Anxiety is an illness, a serious one, and if left untreated, it can lead to tragic consequences. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your child if he or she is feeling overly stressed and anxious, and to keep a close eye on any of the symptoms of anxiety. Sometimes professional help is necessary. Other times, a change of scenery–such as homeschooling–may reduce the anxiety.
Reasons for Teen Anxiety
I mentioned some of the common causes of teen anxiety above, but we’ll look at some a little bit closer here.
- The pressure to succeed. This has long been an impetus for stress and anxiety in teens, but that pressure has seemingly been increased in recent years. Not only do students feel pressure from their parents to succeed in school in order to get into the “right” college, but kids also compete amongst themselves in school. While no student should compare his or her success to others, it happens, and if a student hears a friend talking about how she was accepted into an Ivy League school, that naturally raises the pressure to achieve the same goal.
But that isn’t always realistic. And that unrealistic pressure leads to anxiety about grades, extracurricular activities, and college prep exams and applications. Add to that the general daily stress students experience in school (the desire to fit in and be accepted by peers, the “importance” of popularity and athleticism, etc.), and it’s a recipe for serious anxiety.
- Social media. Social media has its benefits, but for teens it’s often a source of angst. Being active on social media, while fun for some, also directly leads to cyberbullying and heightened self-criticism. No teen needs that stress, yet so many open themselves up to it every day. A 2018 study compared 14- to 17-year-olds who engaged in social media seven hours a day to those who used it for only an hour a day. The results showed that “the frequent users of social media were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with depression, been treated by a mental health professional, or taken medication for a psychological or behavioral issue during the 12 months prior to the study.” That’s very compelling and convincing evidence.
Additionally, a CNN study of 13-year-olds using social media found that those who checked Facebook or other networking sites between 50 and 100 times a day were 37 percent more distressed than those who checked a few times per day.
- Current events. While current events have always been, well, current, it’s increasingly more difficult to tune out this type of noise thanks to 24-hour news cycles and…social media. And while it is important for students to stay aware of what’s going on in the world around them, the sad reality is that what’s going on in the world around them hasn’t been all that wonderful. Throughout the past couple of years alone, we’ve all been dealing with a global pandemic that literally flipped the entire world upside down, a bitter and divisive presidential election that has more or less split the country into politically and foundationally different sides, a threat to American democracy and voting rights, a renewed fight for civil rights and equality, mass shootings…if you’ve watched the news, you’re aware of all this negativity, and all of that undoubtedly impacts the anxiety levels of students of all ages–but especially those who understand what’s happening and see their parents’ reaction to the news.
The COVID Factor
We’ve used this space to talk about COVID-19 quite a bit, as well as its impact on school and students. It’s no surprise at all that, since the pandemic started, children and adolescents have experienced higher rates of anxiety, stress, and depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of kids ages 12 to 17 who visited an emergency room/department because of a mental health crisis increased 31 percent between April and October of 2020 compared to the same time frame in 2019. Keep in mind…this was during the peak of the pandemic, when many were hesitant to visit hospitals or treatment centers out of fear of contagion.
High school students as a whole have been very susceptible to anxiety and depression throughout the pandemic, but its impact on Black and Latinx students has been even more profound, according to a survey by EdWeek–77 percent of these students reported more struggles than before the pandemic, which was nine points higher than white or Asian students. Low-income and LGBTQ students were also more likely to experience problems during the pandemic, according to the survey.
The impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on mental health is staggering, and it may be years before researchers and doctors can truly measure the magnitude of damage it caused among teenagers.
What Can Help Teen Anxiety?
There’s no blanket answer to this question, as each teenager is dealing with his or her own specific issues and reasons for the anxiety. So, what can you do to help your child? Whether your teen is suffering from general anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, or depression, there are ways to get help.
One of the common–and major–stressors among students is school itself. So many teens experience bullying, the aforementioned pressure to succeed, and the general malaise that resulted from more than a full school year of yo-yoing between in-person and remote schooling as well as hybrid instruction. If the mere thought of school induces panic attacks or a sharp increase in stress, it may be time to think about whether your child is in the right situation educationally. Because of all of the reasons mentioned above, some students literally become paralyzed with fear or simply refuse to go to school. If you’re witnessing that type of behavior, removing your child from the situation might be the most effective way to treat it. More and more parents of high schoolers today are doing just that and deciding to homeschool. It’s not difficult to understand why.
- Homeschooling removes so many stressors. The issues and risks that teens face every day at school–bullying, violence, illness–are essentially eliminated with homeschooling. Imagine your child not going to bed terrified of what the next school day will bring, and waking up the following morning actually excited about school. Homeschooling gives you the ability to remove the fear and anxiety and stay firmly in control of your child’s experiences, protecting them and their future.
And it’s important not to view this as a sign of surrender, or as not teaching your child how to handle adversity. There’s a difference between adversity and serious mental conditions or dangerous situations, and it’s important that you put your child’s well-being first in either of these scenarios.
- The pressure to succeed is released. Many brilliant children heap extra stress and anxiety upon themselves out of fear they’ll perform poorly, especially on standardized tests. Unfortunately, these exams do not measure the true intelligence of an individual, only their ability to take an exam…those who generally achieve good grades but don’t test as well tend to panic when it’s time for SATs or ACTs or other aptitude tests. Even regular school exams elevate stress levels for so many teens.
Homeschooling will alleviate stress, not elevate it. That’s because it doesn’t place the kind of weight on exams as traditional schools do. In fact, with homeschooling, your student can learn any way you see fit–entirely online, a mix of textbook and online learning, live virtual classes, and so many more options. Best of all, with a homeschool partner like Bridgeway Academy, your student’s education is personalized to his or her specific learning style…and that sets kids up for success, not failure.
- The only competition is self-competition. Without other students in the equation, your teen can focus solely on himself or herself. No more stressing about whether their grades were on par with a classmate’s, no more comparisons of exam scores, no more worrying about who’s going to which college. With that external noise out of the picture, your child can concentrate on bettering him/herself without any pressure. And don’t worry about socialization–your teen’s true friends from school will still want to hang outside of school; plus, homeschooling allows for so many other socializing opportunities with kids who might be experiencing the same things that yours is. As far as college is concerned, there’s no need to worry whatsoever if your child learns through an accredited homeschool academy like Bridgeway. Consider these facts and statistics, compiled by the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI):
- 69% of peer-reviewed studies on success into adulthood (including college) show adults who were home educated succeed and perform statistically better than those who attended institutional schools.
- Homeschooled students go to and succeed at college at an equal or higher rate than the general population.
- Home-educated students typically score above average on SAT and ACT exams that colleges consider for admission.
- Homeschooled students are increasingly being actively recruited by colleges.
Anxiety and depression are serious afflictions plaguing more and more teenagers and students today. It’s critically important to address these illnesses before it’s too late; fortunately, there are several resources available, such as helplines, websites with helpful information, therapies, and medications. And if you think homeschooling is right for your student, call Bridgeway Academy today at (800) 863-1474. Our homeschool experts are here and ready to help your family.