Helping Teens with Learning Differences Manage Stress

April 12, 2023

Teen Stress

Teens are reporting greater levels of stress in their daily lives. Stress is a response to challenging life circumstances, and a significant stressor in teenage life is their social lives. A major task of the developmental period that occurs during the teenage years is finding a peer group and forming new identities away from their families of origin. Teens want to feel like they belong. Cultivating new friendships, maintaining older friendships, and the general task of building close relationships may be significant sources of stress for many teens. Social media apps add to that stress. 

Teens with learning differences may have additional stressors to manage when considering academics. Students with learning differences may struggle with decreased self-esteem, increased anxiety, and increased sadness or irritability (in addition to other challenges) when they see themselves fall behind their peers in school. This can be further exacerbated by being separated from their peers in order to attend specialized classes or instructional periods for students with learning differences. At Forman, however, no one gets pulled out of class for extra help or is singled out for learning differently than other students. Instead, support is built in. 

Some other stressors teens face are getting into college and figuring out a future career. At Forman, students collaborate closely with the College Counseling Department, take post-seconding planning courses, and, ultimately, determine what their next chapter looks like with a support system in place. The support offered here ensures every student earns the opportunity to attend a four-year college or university and feel confident in their ability to succeed. 

Stress vs. Anxiety

Stress is the body’s response to the daily demands we have to manage. Anxiety is a more extreme form of worry. It is nervousness and apprehension that a person struggles to turn off. 

Time is an important element of anxiety. People may be anxious about something they said or did wrong in the past. Often anxiety involves worry about the future. It is not necessarily focused on the present. 

For that reason, dealing with anxiety and stress requires us to deal with the present, with what’s right in front of us. 

Defining the Breaking Point

It is normal for teens to stress over things in their lives, such as a big test coming up or a college application deadline. However, if the anxiety is causing an impairment in functioning, such as being unable to sleep or eat, it may be time to seek the assistance of a psychologist.

Building Resilience 

There is no cure for stress, but building resilience can help teens learn to overcome stressful situations. Here are some ways teens can learn to manage stress. 

  1. Acceptance
    We all experience stressors throughout our lives. There will be stressors in college, relationships, marriages, jobs, etc. That is why we need to work toward becoming resilient human beings. Recognizing this helps one accept and better adapt to situations. 

  2. Perspective
    Have you ever used the phrase “in the grand scheme of things?” Those six words can help a teen put a stressful situation in context, minimizing feelings of upset and anxiety. 
    As a parent, you can try to use this phrase to help kids put things in perspective. For example, “In the grand scheme of things, how big a deal is it to lose a game?” Students will generally recognize that it’s not a catastrophe. So while you can acknowledge that it is stressful, you can remind them that it’s not the end of the world. Once you’ve established that, the question can turn to, “Now, what do you want to do about it?” You can start them on the path to problem-solving.

  3. Self-care
    As a parent, you can teach your kids about self-care. This includes engaging in activities that can help them de-stress in healthy ways. Some examples are getting enough sleep, meditation, and exercise.

  4. Self-advocacy
    When it comes to your child’s stress, you may not be in it together. If your child is experiencing emotional escalation with lots of thoughts or worries, as a parent, your job is to help them regulate their emotions in a more adaptive, beneficial manner, rather than to join in the frenzy. This may include using some of the techniques above but should also include encouragement and solution-focused advocacy. 
    It is important to show your support and help your child to determine various options for solutions. In discussion with you, your child will be able to determine the best possible solution and path forward. Statements that are encouraging and confidence-building are key. 

  5. Ongoing Support
    When stress and anxiety begin to get in the way of your teenager’s ability to function, that’s when it’s time to call in reinforcements. Your child’s pediatrician is a good person to start with, as they may be able to make an appropriate counseling referral. However, it’s important to consider the fit between your teen and a prospective provider. Having a list of providers to consider is recommended.

Today’s teens experience a significant level of stress, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show in 2021, more than a third (37%) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the COVID pandemic. However, it is important to note that prior data from the CDC show mental health concerns were increasing among high school students before the pandemic.

The good news is that there are multiple ways to build resilience to better manage stress and challenging situations. At Forman, we put a significant emphasis on our students' emotional, physical, and mental well-being and offer resources, such as counselors and psychologists, for students who seek support in managing their stress.

Written by: Forman School and Dr. Kelli Miller, School Psychologist

Want to future-proof your education?

It all starts with an inquiry.