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Ask the Expert: Teen Stress

Ron Taffel, Ph.D., author of teen-parenting book The Second Family, talks about youth stress and how to deal with it.

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Is there anything specific to New York that makes it a more intense place to go to school?
The pace of social and academic demands starts to pick up earlier here. You really see it now between fifth and eighth grades, whereas ten years ago the pressure cooker was in high school.

What’s the worst age for stress?
Early high school, ninth and tenth grades, is like a vice, because of the demands of the college track and building a résumé. It’s really a very difficult time for a lot of kids.

How about peer pressure?
The social pecking order heats up in middle school, but it does settle down just a bit in high school. Interestingly enough, boys and girls are becoming friends more than I’ve ever seen.

Do public- and private-schoolers experience stress differently?
No. Private-school kids just have access to more material goods. Money always plays a role, but kids feel stressed whether they’re richer or poorer.

What can parents do to help kids combat stress?
Encourage them to focus. They don’t have to go out for everything to build a college résumé. They should choose extracurricular activities they feel passionate about. They should also pick and choose their social events. The family should have predictable time together. Parents also have to have an expectation of rules: that kids keep their word, call when they say they will, and give school their best shot.

But teens don’t talk to their parents, right?
That’s more of a myth. Teens talk, but not always at the best moments. You definitely hear from them when they want something or they’re upset. Usually it happens late at night when parents are least ready for it.


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