boy playing basketball with dad

Helping Your Stressed Youth

Twenty-first century life is filled with conveniences and technologies past generations could only have dreamed of. While these advances have made our lives easier in many ways, they have also enabled us to have more stress. Having access to virtually anything through smartphones can actually be very overwhelming.

In addition to technology, today’s youth have the added stressors of competition at school and with sports, the uneasiness of world politics, the threat of school shootings—the list goes on. We spoke to Overlake primary care provider Yu Han, MD about these and other reasons kids are so stressed and what you can do to help them.

Why are kids so stressed these days?

Some reasons kids are stressed include lack of sleep, pressure from parents and peers, constant exposure to social media, and overloaded school and extracurricular schedules. The lack of communication and support systems during stressful events then adds to their stress.

What impact does stress have on kids’ physical and mental health?

Stress elevates the hormone cortisol—the same hormone produced when people need to run for their life or in a race, give a presentation to a big crowd or face any situation that requires 100% focus. Cortisol has its benefits in the short term; however, long-term influence of high levels of cortisol fatigues our brains, which kills brain cells and even reduces the size of the brain. This fatigue wears down the brain’s ability to function properly, particularly in regards to memory, learning and decision-making since the area affected in the brain responsible for those functions (the prefrontal cortex).

Can you describe symptoms and behaviors that might arise due to stress?

You might notice your son or daughter experiencing stomach aches, loss of appetite, mood swings, headaches or sleep disturbances. They may start acting out, withdrawing or having drastic changes in academic performance.

How can parents support their kids through stressful times?

Recognize that the stress and anxiety children are experiencing is real; it is not something they can control and turn it on or off.

I suggest finding a hobby in common. Go jogging, swimming or biking together and talk about life. Try be part of the projects they are involved in.

Be a good listener: Listening is almost always more helpful than trying to come up with a solution or offering advice. And, give them space and privacy during times they don’t want to talk.

Take them to see a healthcare provider, if you believe they could benefit from seeing and talking to a professional.

Do you have any other advice for how to mitigate kids’ stress?

Mutual understanding is the key. No one is born to be a parent; this is also a learning process for us. Don’t feel ashamed letting them know you don’t have answers for everything. The unconditional love we have for our kids makes us their biggest supporters.

Dr. Han is a board-certified internal medicine provider who practices at Overlake Clinics Primary Care – Newcastle.