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Stress and Adolescents

As technology advances and jobs become more demanding, with many years of training required for each specialized position, society's emphasis on performance and hard work has shifted from the home into the workplace. This has brought about a change in the way that adolescents are expected to behave. More and more they are taking on adult responsibilities, such as care of younger siblings, and entirely taking over caring for themselves. This reality causes them much stress, as the less traditionally caused stress accumulates on top of the stress adolescents are expected to have.

Normally, adolescents experience stress as a result of a variety of stimuli, such as peers, physical growth, sexual development, parents, family, school, the need to prove their individuality, as well as other reasons that are specific to their situation, such as povery, broken homes, and other common but not universal problems. This is a good deal of stress in itself; it appears that stress comes from every quarter. The expectations youths have for themselves may also produce a good deal of stress. Although adolescence is seen as the time when individuals make the transition into society as a whole, it is also the time when they develop their personal beliefs, morals, and essentially define themselves against that society of which they are becoming a part.. It is this process of contrasting that makes the diverse range of adults so different from the youths who group together, friends who often look alike or support each other in their views. Adults make friends with those people that they find interesting, whereas youths search for individuals similar to themselves. This is where the gangs, cliques and posses of today originate. Note that each group normally has an academic standard, and even a dress code(if unspoken) may be in place this element of unity may be seen throughout each aspect of a group members life.. Truly, adolescence is a time of much strain and questioning, unlike any process that the individual ever has or will go through again.

There are also those teens in busy working households, where they are expected to behave as though they were adults. This, sadly, is more and more becoming the norm -- the adolescence described in the previous paragraph may soon be thought of as unusually lightly stressed. Adolescents lives become busier and busier, incorporating extracurricualr acitivities, sports, fitness, care of siblings, self and family, schoolwork, part time jobs, and household chores. Soon there is very little time or space for the rebellion expected of youths. Their day to day lives are too serious, too significant, and have such power over their future that rebellion is simply deemed frivolous. This may lead to the more and more apparent parent-child gap that develops in early adolescence. The child feels resentful that they are doing what was once percived to be the parents' work, and that the parents are putting much more pressure than necessary on them and simply taking away their opportunity to rebel. Here is where our picture of the typical youth today arises. The apathetic front, and other common symptoms of the rift between parent and child are prevalent in youths today. This creates an entirely new family of stressors. The added responsibility, not simply for themselves but for their future, their parents, and their siblings, is quite often something that teens simply don't know how to handle. There are coping mechanisms that they need to learn and develop, but the opportunity to do so hasn't yet arisen. As well, the fact that they do have such responsibilities can limit their security, thus limiting the confidence required for experimentation. If the world were on your shoulders, would you take the time to smell the roses, something that might simply detract from the time that you have to deal with the world?

As a result of this, teens today put into practice activities that, although they may subconsciously think are relaxing, when in reality they are simply methods of procrastination or distraction. For example, a method of distraction is simply watching the television, telephoning a friend, taking a bath. These are not solutions to stress, but they do divert the thought of an individual for a time, and are relatively harmless. Then there is avoidance, which can be more serious. It is distraction carried to an extreme. Some common methods of distraction are sleeping, illness, procrastination, and withdrawal. Sleep can simply be an excuse. Sleeping more may be natural for adolescents, but it may also be a method of avoidance. No one, not even physical laborers, need ten hours of sleep every night. Unfortunately, the more an individual sleeps, the more they have to get done in a shorter time, which means that they go to sleep again to avoid doing so. Illness is also a dangerous method of stress alleviation. When we were young, our parents encouraged this behaviour; if we didn't "feel good" and had a convincing performance of being sick, we didn't go to school. The symptoms of stress can easily be exaggerated into illness. This in itself can cause stress, as some individuals can convince themselves of sickness. This may have serious medical consequences, as it causes much more stress and also stress related illnesses, such as ulcers and digestive problems. Withdrawal is when one cuts off all contact with the outside world, leaving behind the necessary support that everyone needs in order to deal with stress. This, carried to an extreme, is the most serious form of stress evasion: escape. The methods one may choose to escape are many, but each includes a factor of defeat, of simply giving up. Drugs, running away, suicide, drinking, dropping out of school, overindulging to the point of a compulsive behavior in activities such as eating, having sex, gambling, sports, computers, studying, etc. are all escapist tactics. They are NOT methods that truly eradicate the unwanted stress, as they can lead to bouts of depression and self loathing.

As we progress into the future, there will be many new stressors, mostly unpredictable. There are a few possibilities that are often discussed. The decentralization of schools is a popular topic. In short, it is the evolution of our current schooling system into a home based world wide computer schooling system, wherein each individual would learn form a home monitor. This presents many new stressors. The physical stresses involved with working with a computer, discussed in Stress in the Workplace will become an issue, as will the anti-socialization possibilities. Indeed, companionship is seen to be a powerful stress coping mechanism in itself. The abscence of these peers may lead to even more inept coping skills and also remove both the opportunity and possibly eliminate the desire to rebel and contrast oneself against the society. The effect of this may be seen in many science fiction novels, such as Brave New World, -the bland, plastic society wherein each individual is simply a product of their upbringing and education, with little actual individuality. Realistically, it is unlikely that we will encounter quite such an extreme situation, and if we were to, I beleive that psychologists and psychiatrists would certainly speack out about the necessity of socialization.

There is no apparent solution to the growing stress that the teens of today face. Alleviation of the stressors often would require an entire shift in societal standards. A less stressful life entails not constantly working, as well as the abandon of matereialistic values, and that is certainly not a possibility . However, we may be able to aid these young people in dealing with their stress, through education in the areas of effective coping mechanisms (discussed more here) and in recognising stressful situations. This oculd be incorporated into guidance programs or health, and I personally would recommend to have it somewhere around the exam period as students are more likey to pay it attention. Truly, it is a valuable investment of time as it will aid in an increase in productivity as well as student morale.