With spring comes the fresh hope of good weather, blooming flowers, and a social calendar full to bursting. It’s an exciting time, right? Right?
Maybe not. For teenagers from Monmouth and around the country, the pressures of the last couple of years are compounding on top of exam season and prom uncertainty that already has tension high.
Teen stress is often written off as dramatics for attention, but in truth, teens face pressures at a level that rivals that of many adults. Teenagers are dealing with a profound amount of stress in their daily lives on a normal basis and let’s be honest: nothing has been normal in a long while.
The first step to supporting your teen with stress management skills is to understand their experiences and emotions empathetically. So let’s talk about what teens may be feeling, and some of the ways the stress teens feel this time of year is even more profound in 2022.
Stolen milestones are stark as life returns to its former pace
An entire year of students saw major milestones taken from them without a word—proms and graduations, ascensions into new schools, and new lives. Being a teenager has long held a series of milestones that are common across a teenager’s life. These milestones range from a first kiss to a first prom, college tours, and driving license tests.
Some have happened in new ways, and others have fallen to the wayside entirely. The pain of these changes or losses was quickly forgotten as the world spun in place.
Now, life is changing pace once more for us all, and it’s a glaring loss. Something they’ve been denied that was as obvious and concrete as their birthdays or the rising of the sun. For the teenagers who missed out on these milestones, that’s painful.
Test anxiety soars to new heights
Two years elapsed with a literal pass on the pressures of formalized exam season here in New Jersey. Ranging across the spectrum from assessment to graduation exams and standardized testing like the SATs, teens will return to the high-stakes pressure of exam season this year.
In a normal year, testing anxiety rates are among the top reasons teen clients seek support in coping with the pressure they feel. That is amplified this year by the pressure to perform fluidly to pre-pandemic standards despite the very real strain teens have faced not just as students but as complex and holistic human beings.
College planning feels impossible
The send-off to university life was one that felt like an option to most teens who craved that future beyond high school graduation. With delayed entrance, postponed classes, and universities moving to virtual platforms for many lectures, uncertainty is rearing its head once more in the lives of teens.
It’s not just college planning that feels difficult, though. It’s life planning. Planning for any future seems tenuous as best as unrest seems to linger just beneath the surface of many social and political spheres.
Teens are trying to decide what they want for the rest of their life. They’re struggling with how to structure that desire when they’re not even sure where they’ll take their lit exam next week. Class takes place on the couch some days, on-campus for others, and there’s a constant need for flexibility. It doesn’t lend itself well to long-term planning or the structure many teens are craving after such a nebulous existence these last couple of years.
Once-familiar social situations are now foreign
From football games to Saturday hangouts, teens are struggling with the social weight of their world. So how do you balance the caution that living through a pandemic instills with the desire to engage with your community of friends who share your interests? In fact, how do you find the people who share those interests at all when you’re emerging from isolation?
Amid newfound social hesitation, regular anxiety, and learning disruptions, pandemic stress becomes a complex knot of social tension for teens this spring in particular. The everyday pressures of how you’ll spend your Friday night are now compounded by two years of warranted caution and Zoom nights. Life has shifted to a virtual pace, and shifting back for teens who came of age into this alternate communication world can feel overwhelming at best.
Isolation has replaced connection
Online connection is priceless, and there’s no denying its value. But when even teens feel the fatigue of virtual life, where do we turn when connection still feels a million miles away? Isolation sinks deep into the bones of those who already struggle to express their emotions. For teenagers who feel them so deeply, that can be just too much to contend with.
When your emotions are complex and the people you trust to support you simply tell you not to be dramatic or make you feel like you don’t have a right to feel the way you do, isolation just feels more manageable. This has long been a truth for teenagers as they’ve learned to express their emotions in healthy ways.
The pandemic has compounded that by creating isolation in an echo chamber where their only solace was the internet. Now many of them are being called back to an external life that seems to bring that isolating feeling in stereo.
There are so many facets we’ve not found space to touch on. After all, even with limitless space, how could we quantify the existence of each teen who is facing the stress of this spring in their unique way? Anxiety is climbing across every facet of life for teens just as much as it is for those of us playing the adult we wish we could be.
For an entire generation of teenagers, uncertainty frames every opportunity presented. This spring is blooming with the ways that that may manifest as stress in their life. If your teen is feeling the pressure, we want to support you in supporting them however we can.
At Awakened Path Counseling, we offer teen counseling, individual therapy, family counseling, and stress management tools to help everybody get back on their intended path – or at least find support together if you’re looking for a new path along the way.