I am the father of four very patient teenagers, two still living at home. They indulge my stream of dad jokes with a wry, sympathetic smile. My unfavorable comparison of their music tastes to the golden age of late-’70s classic rock is generally tolerated, perhaps with the occasional eye roll. But one day, their patience finally snapped after I delivered a particularly eloquent rant on how easy their lives were compared with my stress-filled adult existence. I wanted to swap!
My daughter and son staged what can only be described as an intervention. They sat me down at the dining table and explained just how stressful their lives were. It was an eye-opening experience.
Despite living with these young people and observing the ups and downs of their daily lives, I had still failed to grasp many of the sometimes subtle pressures — biological, social and psychological — that make being a 21st-century teenager so complicated. True, they may not have mortgages or dependents of their own, but that’s not to say their lives are always easy.
Here are just a few of the reasons your teenager’s life just might be more stressful than yours:
Teenage sleep deprivation is real. “Sending kids to school at 7 a.m. is the equivalent of sending an adult to work at 4 in the morning.” — William Dement, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University. According to a study carried out by Brown University School of Medicine, ninth- and tenth-grade students should get nine hours of sleep each night to maintain optimal alertness. However, after surveying 3,000 high school students, researchers found that, on average, students managed only about 7.5 hours of sleep on a school night. This sleep deprivation was even more pronounced in high school boys than in girls.
Part of the problem is that even if students try to achieve nine hours of sleep each night, their own bodies may be working against them. Studies show that teenage circadian rhythms run around two hours behind those of the average adult, turning them into night owls who struggle to wake in time for school each morning. For this reason, early school start times are associated with significant sleep deprivation in adolescents, which can lead to a decline in performance, memory lapses and mood swings, as well as behavioral problems.