Student life is not all fun, points out Erinda Shah, of Mental Health First Aid India as she shares how adults can help the youngsters face the challenges
Student life is a period of immense joy and something we adults always feel nostalgic about. Being a student is always depicted as being carefree and happy. But being a student also has its own share of stress, and in today’s fast-paced lifestyle, it is even more pronounced. Some of us might think, ‘What is there to be stressed about being a student? They are being cared for, fed and looked after by their parents. So is there any reason for them to be stressed?’ The answer to this question is: a lot.
Performance in Academics
The reasons might be due to their own habits or due to their interactions with peers at school and home. When we think about stress of students, the first thing most of us will agree on is the academic workload they are given. Education is becoming increasingly highly competitive, where the students are asked to take up extra classes outside of their regular school hours to score an edge over their peers. Some schools even start preparing their students for various national-level entrance examinations at least two to three years in advance. Some schools take it a notch higher by teaching the next year’s syllabus in advance to the students during their vacation time as well. Such non-stop forcing of academia on the students pushes them to their limits, resulting in a burn out of their energy.
Apart from the academic pressure at school, they might also face additional pressure when a sizeable load of homework is given to them. Such a ‘full schedule’ of a child’s day might decrease focus on the subjects and lower concentration levels. In addition to such academic workload, there might also be additional pressure among the peer groups to ‘outperform’ each other. As it becomes important to score high marks to secure a position in reputed higher institutions, students feel the ‘push’ to perform from their parents, teachers and other students. Studies conducted across schools have shown that this pressure is felt by all students in classes 9–12.
Diet — A Casualty
In addition to pressure from education, students might face stress when they follow a poor diet pattern. Students who eat high calorie food, high fat, caffeine, sugar and refined carbohydrates are prone to have high stress levels. Popular fast foods have all been shown by various studies to contain high amounts of fat, caffeine, sugar and carbohydrates. Regular consumption of these types of foods leads to physical and mental health problems among students. Owing to hectic scheduling and academic pressure, students often fall into these types of unhealthy food habits leading to stress.
Quality of Sleep
Another factor that can cause stress even among adults is inadequate sleep. Quality of sleep is shown to affect the performance of an individual, and schoolchildren are no exception to this. It is important for children to maintain a regular sleeping schedule and follow it properly. It is recommended that schoolchildren get a minimum of 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night. It is the recharge mechanism for the body and mind. Proper sleep can boost the morale of the children and increase their performance.
Poor organising skills of the student themselves could be a stress-inducing factor for them which they might not be aware of. If the student is unable to identify and prioritise the work, it results in very little ‘downtime’ for them, resulting in stress. Similarly, postponing their tasks and procrastinating might result in accumulation of tasks, thereby stressing out the students at the last minute.
Transitioning to Adulthood
Another area of concern during the formative teen years for young adults is ‘finding their own voice’. As this is a transition period of moving from under the wings of their parents to the outside world as a fully grown adult with responsibilities, it might be a difficult time of making their own decisions and finding their place in society. This might often lead to conflicts with parents, resulting in rebellious behaviour and end up in questioning of their own identity. These issues have a greater impact on the mental health of the students and might reflect negatively on their academic performances as well.
Students in today’s world also face pressure from social media. Young children might be subjected to cyber bullying and can suffer in silence unless there is adult intervention. It can result in stress and other acts of escaping such as substance abuse.
Role of Parents
How can parents address these issues?
Adolescence is a period of change and transition physically, emotionally, psychologically. It is a period of discovering the self, entering new realms of knowing about themselves — their abilities, skills, inclinations, likes, dislikes and so on, most of which will form the basis of their ‘Self Concept’. It is also a period when they can have their own ‘experiences’ for which they may be entirely or at least partially ‘responsible’.
This is immensely significant as the seeds of being an individual are sown. Some adolescents can also get into the ‘experimenting’ mode, thus opening a variety of life skills learning opportunities.
The changes in their own sensory experiences together with their sense of right and wrong as learnt during their childhood sets the tone for the need for ‘secrecy’ and ‘privacy’. Their increasing ability to reason, see differences between themselves and their peers, their families, and so on, is the beginning of the young adolescent’s journey of individuation from their parents, on whom they were totally dependent until some years ago.
It is important for parents to understand these changes that their little child is going through and respond accordingly. It is a transition that the parents also need to go through, so that the changeover becomes smooth.
‘Letting go’ of some of their responsibilities as parents may feel like a loss of control over their children’s affairs. These may include choosing their clothes, friends, hairstyles, time management, the time spent on phone with their friends, and so on. It is very important to also note that as your adolescent starts questioning or challenging or even acting rebellious at times, you may do well to respond in a calm manner. While it is important to be permissive at times, your authority as a parent needs to be maintained (without being authoritarian) as you set some rules, set limits and demand responsible behaviour from your adolescent. Most teens understand and respect reasonable house rules that are explained to them. It gives them a sense of feeling ‘contained’ when they follow the agreed rules and norms of the family.
Tips to Parenting Teens
The following tips may be of help to parents with teenaged children:
• Ensure your adolescent gets adequate sleep and eats three balanced meals.
• Teach them some time management skills through practical examples without pointing out the child’s mistakes.
• Do set clear limits on the amount of time they spend on social media, on phone calls and gaming. It would help to have an agreement with the child.
• Cyber bullying is a very real issue that most teens dread as they find it very hard to deal with the shame involved. Do ask them if they face it, especially if they appear upset.
• Teach them (and role model) the virtue of maintaining a regular schedule and manage work load by starting with a plan, setting goals and breaking down tasks into smaller doable bits.
• Help them to tackle peer pressure by teaching them skills in assertiveness and sound judgement.
• Teach them the value of qualitative relaxation through physical activities, deep breathing and simple meditation techniques.
• Several teens are happy to keep to their room or spend time with their gadgets — do insist on face-to-face communication with them as also the importance of them making conversation.