As if puberty and Mean Girls drama weren't enough to deal with, turns out today's teens are now more stressed out than adults. A new study shows that American teenagers are juggling so much during the school year — academics, extracurricular activities, social lives — that the typical dose of adolescent angst is rising, rivaling unhealthy stress patterns found in adults. Say goodbye to the carefree days of youth (if they ever existed).
The Stress in America survey from the American Psychological Association finds that 31 percent of teens say their stress level has increased in the past year, and 34 percent believe it will only grow in the year to come. The amount of pressure faced at such a young age indicates that unhealthy stress habits plaguing many adults develop early on and are sustained throughout a person's life. More than 1,000 teens and 1,900 adults participated in the study.
While there are many factors contributing to teens' troubles, education is a primary trigger: 27 percent say they experience "extreme stress" during the school year versus 13 percent in the summer. But even when school's out, adolescents still suffer from levels higher than normal: 4.6 versus 3.9 on a 10-point scale. On average, their stress level was 5.8, compared with 5.1 for adults.
“It is alarming that the teen stress experience is so similar to that of adults. It is even more concerning that they seem to underestimate the potential impact that stress has on their physical and mental health,” says APA CEO and Executive Vice President Norman B. Anderson.
Teens report difficulties managing their time and as result, 40 percent neglect responsibilities at home, with 21 percent saying the same about duties at work or school. Of course, it takes its toll. They snap at friends or teammates, procrastinate, cancel plans, and feel depressed. Close to a quarter skip meals while others feel sick to their stomach and lose sleep. (As if they didn't make enough poor decisions).
One survey participant tells USA Today that the last two years of high school have been the most stressful for her and her friends.
"We have to do everything and be perfect for colleges and we have a big workload. Most of the time we talk about how stressed we are," 18-year-old Hannah Sturgill says.
A key problem highlighted by the study is the unhealthy coping mechanisms implemented by teens. Many don't know how to deal with the anxiety and turn to "sedentary activities" like playing video games or going online to relax. Only a small number engage in exercise to manage their stress.
Godspeed, guys. It only gets worse.