Here’s Some Advice…for Parents

Dr. Anna Mendenhall from our Encinitas pediatric office shares her perspective on how our teens are coping in the face of unrealistic expectations from parents…in addition to growing up, learning new life skills, dealing with peer pressure and simply trying to be a kid.

I look at my schedule…there is a 17-year-old in my office for fatigue, headache and stomach ache. “Junior year?” I ask as I see the stress and anxiety on my teenage patient’s face. “Yep,” he sighs and shrugs with a pained look.

Sadly, this kind of interaction is more common every year. High schoolers are stressed beyond belief. In a 2014 report from the American Psychological Association (APA), teens ages 13 to 17 reported that their stress level during the school year exceeded what they believed to be healthy. Many reported feeling overwhelmed (31 percent) and depressed or sad (30 percent) as a result of stress.

Granted, as a parent you want your child to do their best – but this doesn’t mean they have to be perfect. We worry that if kids don’t get straight A’s, high SAT/ACT scores, and do all the volunteer and extra-curricular activities available, they won’t get into the right colleges, they won’t have a bright future, won’t make as much money, etc. I can recall my own father grumbling and questioning me about a B in high school honors English, without mentioning the other 6 A’s on my report card. Yes, I got a B in high school and still graduated cum laude from medical school…a B is not failure, and for that matter, neither is a C.

The reality is that college acceptance – the source of so much unnecessary anxiety – does not define your child’s life. What matters most is not where your child goes to college, but what they do when they get there.

Their actions and decisions – like staying up all night partying and getting so drunk that they end up regretting actions (or worse – not remembering) from the night before – can sabotage their future, even if they are at their “dream” college. I have seen patients that worked so hard with their parents pushing them to get in to a top school simply flunk out of their first semester because they didn’t know how to function on their own.

Another result from the 2014 APA study revealed that 34 percent of the teen respondents anticipated that their stress level would be increasing in the coming year. Nearly half of teens (42 percent) reported that they were not doing enough or they weren’t sure they were doing enough to manage their stress. This is the perfect time for parents and school administrators need to step in and help our kids be healthier and happier.

So parents, take a deep breath and try to relax, as this might help your teen do the same. Weekly lectures on their future don’t need to happen. They know you want them to try their best, so lay off and let them figure some things out on their own a bit. Here are a few things to read that can help you deal with this stressful time of parenting:
“Dear Class of 2018, We Have Failed You” by Kelly Richardson
“Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: an Antidote to the College Admissions Mania,” by Frank Bruni