Teens just as stressed as adults, study finds

By Deborah Netburn / Los Angeles Times

Published Feb 13, 2014 at 12:01AM

LOS ANGELES — Teenagers in America report they are just as stressed out as adults, according to a new study by the American Psychological Association. And during the school year, many teens report even higher stress levels than adults.

In an online survey of 1,018 teens and 1,950 adults conducted in August, the average stress level reported by teens during the school year was 5.8 on a 10-point scale where 1 is least stressed and 10 is most stressed. Adults reported an average stress level of 5.1.

Teens were a bit more relaxed in the summer, though, when their reported stress level fell to 4.1.

“We assumed that teens experience stress, but what was surprising was that it was so high compared to adults,” said Norman Anderson, chief executive of the APA. “In adulthood there are work pressures, family pressures and economic pressures, but adolescents still reported higher levels of stress.”

Eighty-three percent of kids said school was responsible for at least some of the stress in their life. They were also stressed out about finding time to manage all their activities, with 59 percent of kids citing that as a stressor.

Money and work are the most dominant sources of stress for adults, according to the report. More than half of adults (69 percent) report work is a significant source of stress. A smaller percentage (59 percent) report the economy in general stresses them out.

And stress is not distributed equally throughout the teen world. Teen girls are more stressed than teen boys (5.1 to 4.1), and overweight kids are more likely to be stressed than normal-weight kids (5.2 to 4.4).

So how do we de-stress these kids? Exercise might help. Teens who exercise at least once a week reported lower average stress levels than teens who exercised less frequently. But just 38 percent of kids say they turn to exercise to relieve stress. More teens turn to video games (46 percent) or going online (43 percent).

Anderson said the best thing a parent can do to help a stressed-out teen is to acknowledge that adolescent stress is real and to model good stress management behaviors.

“Having your own regular exercise routine and going to bed at an adequate time yourself may even be better than telling teens to do these things,” Anderson said. “You’re not instructing, you’re showing them.”