Safe Space for Stressed Teens

Riley Sims, Co-Editor-in-Chief

A study conducted by market research firm Harris Interactive Inc. found that 31 percent of teens report feeling overwhelmed as result of stress. Teens in the study reported that their stress level during the school year exceeds what they believe to be healthy.

To combat this issue, a new program is being created this semester that’s aimed at helping students deal with stress in their lives. The program, The Huddle, was proposed by Assistant Principal Natasha Shaw, who has noticed an increase in students’ stress levels. Shaw came up with The Huddle after talking to numerous students and noticing a lack of balance between school and their social life.

“The purpose is to basically help our students develop their social and emotional skills,” Shaw said. “We are very excited to give them an outlet, a safe place to let it out and get some skills and strategies to move on, so that they can maybe adjust a little better and easier.”

When looking back at her high school experience, Shaw remembers taking AP classes but also having fun. She said that many students have one thing in common: they focus more on school than anything else.

“Honestly, [student’s have] a lack of balance between academic life and social life,” Shaw said. “I’m also noticing a lot of them are really stressed, like on edge, and not really enjoying high school because everything is about, ‘I’ve got to make this grade.’”

This lack of balance can impact a teen’s health greatly. According to John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, long-term stressful situations can weaken the immune system and make teens feel exhausted as well as increase their irritability and create chronic anxiety.

“If you don’t take care of your stress and balance that out with healthy things, taking care of yourself outside of school or whatever it is that’s stressing you out, then it could be physically draining,” licensed professional counselor Robin Fujarski said. “If you don’t take care of it well, then it’s going to be detrimental or difficult to find a balance in other areas of your life.”

Teens are incredibly susceptible to stress, and their stress response occurs more quickly than adults. This is because the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for calling off the stress response, isn’t fully developed during adolescence. This, along with increased participation in extracurricular activities and a larger course load, can send teens into a panic.

“I think that there is a very high demand for students,” Fujarski said. “I think there’s a lot of expectations that’s put on them to just do better and better and better, and sometimes I think it’s unrealistic and maybe a little bit too demanding to the point where it increases stress and anxiety and leads to burnout. Quality is hard to maintain when there’s too much expectation.”

Shaw is planning on including a teacher component to the program in the future. She said she’s talked to teachers about what they can do to help the students’ stress. This includes evaluating the course load they are giving their students.

“The teachers would have to remember what it was like when they were in high school,” Shaw said. “I think it’s an important reminder to make sure that they are considering the lives of all their students, especially those who are in a lot of academics and in a lot of rigorous courses.”

Shaw is excited for the program and hopes to expand it. According to her, students are so focused on their SAT scores and their GPAs that when they don’t make the grade they want, they equate that to their future. She wants them to know their value is not connected to their grades. By separating the two, students will benefit in the long run.

“We hope the kids enjoy it and give us feedback on how we can make it better and improve, and then see what else we can offer to support our students in any way,” Shaw said. “Life still happens even after high school, so we want to be able to give them something that they can take after they graduate.”