Passing the stress test
Many students suffer ‘intense’ anxiety over the thought of going back to school
In theory, August is a blissful reprieve from the stress of the homework, academic pressure and social scrutiny. But that’s not the reality.
August is one long Sunday, with kids dreading what’s to come. Dr. Barbara Greenberg sees the back-to-school blues setting in once July is over, with many kids spending this past month anxious. “Anxiety levels have skyrocketed,” she said.
What was once her slowest month is now her busiest. “August was traditionally downtime for kids and teens — not anymore. I’m seeing more and more kids, and many are feeling they’re behind before they even start.”
Greenberg, a teen clinical psychologist at drbarbaragreenberg.com, sees academic pressures starting earlier, sports being more competitive and less fun, and social comparisons relentless and toxic. “Now middle schoolers are worried about getting into certain universities. Kids have intense anxiety about fitting in, but it’s the engagement in social comparisons that creates terrible anxiety in kids.”
While the summer months can provide a breather from ruthless social media comparisons, once school starts it’s all about trying to fit in and “there’s no way to stay off the social media platforms. Instagram can be very depressing — it’s all about impression management and fabricated moments of seemingly happy, fun-filled lives.”
It’s ugly and fuels poor mental health, taking them to a place of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, body hate and more, says Greenberg, the teen doctor for Psychology Today.
Actually Instagram is the most detrimental social networking app for young people’s mental health, followed closely by Snapchat, reports #StatusofMind, a new survey by the Royal Society for Public Health in the U.K.
Summers are further marred by worries about being bullied, especially when kids are facing a new school or entering high school. “They worry about being rejected and if they’ll have a friendship group to belong to.”
Many parents also experience anxiety and dread as they anticipate the new school year and the return to the grind and anticipation of arguments, tension, pressure and deadlines, says Ari Fox, a psychotherapist specializing in school-related issues at copewithschoolnyc.com.
“Parents need to be careful not to get caught up in joint depression and anxiety with their kids,” warns Greenberg.
Fox adds that students today face intense academic pressures in school highlighted by fear of failure, increased focus on testing and a growing sense that one must know in what field he or she will work.
Many schools have reduced physical education, adds Fox.
“Unfortunately, this deprives students of an important stressreducing tool and can negatively affect both physical and mental wellness.”
Back to school can be a stressful time for both parents and children, as multiple pressures take their toll on kids.