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Do you work with stressed students? An experienced K-12 school counselor offers a solution for parents and educators to consider.

My students are stressed. I mean GENUINELY STRESSED. Stressed over family issues, demanding schoolwork, planning their future, and determining their place in our high school social hierarchy. This stress is so overwhelming, it is impacting all parts of their lives–including their education.

You may be asking yourself, why can’t these “snowflakes” manage their stress like I did when I was in high school? I survived and maybe even thrived. Kids these days don’t even know what stress is!

I hear you. I was one of you. But my work with high school students, especially in the past few years, has given this “Old Dog” a new perspective. 

When I began my career as a school counselor; there was no internet, we bought our music at the record store, Uranus was still a planet, and phones were connected to the wall. Granted, that was a LONG time ago. And we know the only constant in life is change. So, if your high school experience was more than a few years ago, your age may be a disadvantage to you as you ponder this serious problem impacting our children. 

For the past seven years, there has been a downward trend in the state of teens’ mental wellness. A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association indicates American teens reported higher levels of stress than adults since 2013. In the latest APA survey, teens reported worse mental health issues and higher levels of anxiety, stress, and depression than all other age groups. These findings are similar to other surveys, and I haven’t found any data that contradict this frightening trend.

I don’t need national survey results to tell me stress and anxiety are impacting our young adults. I’ve had more students hospitalized this year for depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts than ever before. At this very moment, five of my students are receiving intensive residential treatment for suicidal thoughts. I have ten students receiving homebound educational services because their anxiety prevents them from entering the school building. And the number one mental health concern on my school’s last three  Student Needs Assessment is anxiety.

How did it get so bad? There are several theories …social media, increased academic demand, world events, body image issues, etc. Some say a combination of “all of the above.” Regardless of the cause, our children need help and they need it fast!

Allow me to offer my solution.

This may be a problem we could quickly resolve with sweeping benefits for our children. But beware–it will be difficult. It goes against our basic desire to protect our children and help them succeed. We–all of us–need to move from a society that bubble wraps everything for our children to a society that allows our children to struggle.

We’ve all heard about helicopter parents, stealth fighter parents, and now lawnmower parents (instead of preparing children for challenges, they mow obstacles down so kids won’t experience them in the first place). I also see these behaviors occurring in schools. If a student’s grades are unacceptable, she is able to retake the test or redo the project. If a student does not like his teacher, he is allowed to change classes. If a child forgets her lunch, her parent leaves work and runs the lunch up to the school. And we allow this because “it is in the student’s best interest.” We, all of us, are doing what is right…..right?

Maybe not. Think about it–if students never struggle, how are they going to develop grit and resilience? If students are never compelled to work through feelings of confusion, embarrassment, or nervousness, how will they ever develop coping skills? And here is the big one–if students are never allowed to fail, how will they ever learn what it takes to succeed?

“Persistence and resilience only come from having been given the chance to work through difficult problems.”―Gever Tulley

We are robbing our children of the opportunity to develop crucial life-long skills–the opportunity to learn time management, interpersonal communication, flexibility, and assertiveness. They need to practice dealing with unexpected change, being disappointed, recognizing their stress triggers, and how to relieve stress in the moment so it doesn’t overwhelm them. They need to practice these skills starting at an early age because the earlier they learn to face adversity, the quicker they will learn the self-management skills needed to address the ever-growing anxiety and stress. In other words, we need to get out of the way. 

“A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” —Franklin Roosevelt

Anna Duvall

An experienced school counselor with a demonstrated history of leadership, Anna Duvall has a passion for helping students, families, schools, and colleagues design their future. Currently the Director of Counseling at Lexington High School in Lexington, SC, Anna is known for her proactive approach, data driven curriculum, and student centered practices. Anna was named the 2014 South Carolina School Counselor of the Year and was a 2015 National Semi-Finalist for the American School Counselor Association Counselor of the Year. She was also named the 2018 College Board Southern Region Counselor of the Year. Anna is currently serving as the Immediate Past President of the Palmetto State School Counselor Association.