There is definitely an increase in the levels of stress on teenagers today. Any parent of college-bound high school students (I had three) knows that the pressure on teenagers is enormous. They get up at 6:30 a.m. (an ungodly hour for teenagers who need on average nine hours of sleep a night) to get to school by 7:15 every morning. They attend a full day of classes, enroll in sports or extra curricular activities or both and then come home, eat dinner and have four or five hours of homework, EVERY NIGHT. It’s a pressure cooker life, to be sure.
Even if they are not college-bound, teenagers still have to face all kinds of willpower challenges with very limited social skills to fend them off. Temptations offered by fellow students include sex, drugs, smoking, alcohol, cheating and plagiarism.
In addition, distractions are at an all-time high: texting, internet, social media and private mobile phone calls challenge teenagers ability to stay focused and on task. (When I was in high school, a phone call wasn’t private at all. My parents would often get to the phone in the kitchen before me, tell me who was calling, hand the receiver to me and then return to the living room but be able to hear everything that was said at my end.)
There’s no doubt that poor diet, caffeine consumption and lack of exercise also contribute to the higher levels of anxiety and depression experienced by young people today. My kids started drinking coffee in high school and, because they weren’t on sports teams, got very little exercise. (I didn’t play on any varsity sports either, and yet I was constantly playing pick-up games in what ever sport happened to be in season at the time.)
If you want to see the influence of diet on body size today, look at a baseball game from the 1980s on the classic sports channel. Those players all look like stick figures compared to today’s players. Our diets have changed so dramatically in that time as the result of the rapid increase in fast food restaurants and the availability of junk foods. Increased sugar, caffeine and calorie consumption all tax the body and make it difficult to feel energized and enthusiastic about life.
With all these different influences contributing to their ability to focus, generate energy, and stay on task, I don’t think it’s any surprise that teenagers today (and adults too) are struggling with increases in anxiety and depression.