An Analysis of Stress Among Teens

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High teen stress levels and strained teen-parent relationships are identified as some of the most significant problems during middle and high school years. Source: American Psychological Association

By Eileen Wang and Dasang Dolma 

With a raging virus, a global toilet paper shortage, and an atypical year of masks and hand sanitizer, teenage stress rates have been skyrocketing throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. However, even before then, the age group was showing signs of concern: between the years of 2005 and 2017, teens experienced a significant increase in serious psychological distress, major depression, and suicide rates, and, in 2013, it was even reported that they had higher levels of stress than adults. Similarly, along with increasing stress levels, many teenage adolescents have been reported to often engage in conflict and spend less quality time with their parents, another rising problem among the age group. It’s becoming evident that teen stress is currently a deadly pandemic in and of itself, but, many may wonder, what exactly are its main causes? 

To explore this problem, we conducted our own research on middle and high school students (grades 6-12) in our local community. For our research, we created and sent out a stress and relationships survey that contained a total of 11 questions to 6+ different schools in Buffalo. Questions regarding grade level, ethnicity, generation, stressors, and parent communication were included.

After sending out the survey, a total of 89 responses were recorded and included in our preliminary data inspection. Upon initial analysis, the highest number of responses came from students in 8th grade as well as, by ethnicity, Black and African Americans with the second largest group of respondents being White individuals. Regarding stress factors, academic responsibilities was the most selected option, followed by a heavy workload, concerns about the future, and parental pressures. Meanwhile, for parental communication comfortability, respondents seemed to be either extremely comfortable or extremely uncomfortable talking to their parents, as the most picked options on a scale of 1-10 being 1 and 10, with the most popular points of disagreement between students and their parents appearing to be parenting style and political opinions. 

Upon further data analysis, we were able to identify some interesting trends when working with University of Buffalo professor Dr. Jun Zhuang and two of his graduate students, Colette Fraser and Mirka Arevalo. When comparing respondents’ comfort levels when talking to parents by ethnicity, we found that on average, Asian students were not very comfortable talking to their parents about everyday matters and their emotions and stressors, with their average comfort level being a 7 for everyday matters and a 5 for emotions and stressors on a scale of 1-10, compared to White and African American students who seemed to be the most comfortable talking to parents, averaging around an 8-9 for both topics.

Courtesy of UB graduate students, Colette Fraser and Mirka Arevalo

Another way we organized our data was by mapping out the percentages of different stressors per grade. When doing so, we first noticed that students in grades 6, 7, and 10 were the least stressed about their academics and workload. Perhaps a reasonable explanation for this is that grades 6 and 7 are still near the lower end of the grade range with easier classes and a lighter workload overall as opposed to students in higher grade levels. Furthermore, the increase in stress levels in 8th and 9th grade may be explained by the fact that many 8th graders are just beginning to take on more challenging courses while freshmen are just starting their first year of high school and must get acclimated to the new changes and academic expectations of the transition. Although 10th grade is near the higher end of the grade level range, it’s still reasonable for sophomores to experience less academic stress since they already had a prior year in high school to adjust to the new, fast-paced environment. On the contrary, since both juniors and seniors are taking many more advanced courses, studying for exams of greater importance, and prepping for college, it seems only natural that they deal with larger amounts of academic and workload stress. 

Additionally, we also observed that parental and social pressures seem to generally increase over a student’s academic career. This could be correlated with rising parental expectations for their children as teens grow older and become more capable of handling a larger amount of responsibilities and achieving certain goals. Meanwhile, students might be experiencing a rise in social pressures due to their increased interaction with other people and their surroundings, subsequently forcing them to feel as if they must become more aware of how others perceive them and fit in with their peers. 

Courtesy of UB graduate students, Colette Fraser and Mirka Arevalo

From our research, we were able to collect data from a diverse pool of students and schools and work towards identifying the main stressors and points of conflict between teens and their parents as well as analyze different trends in data based on students’ ethnicity and grade level. Through this process, we were able to gain a better understanding of stress and parent-teen relationships and hope to utilize this valuable information in developing and implementing a solution to these significant matters in the future. 

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