Is Stress Affecting Your Teen’s Mental Health?

According to a recent study published in the journal Child Development, Hispanic teens are experiencing stress related to discrimination and it is affecting their sleep and mental health. As adults, we understand stress and we feel its detrimental impact on our lives, but we tend to forget that young people experience stress, too. It affects their well-being and they may not realize that there are healthy ways to cope with stress. Parents and other adults need to be aware of how stress is affecting young people and need to be prepared to help.

Stress and Hispanic Teens

The study on stress in Hispanic young adults was led by the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University. It found that Hispanic teens who were born to immigrants experienced stress because of discrimination and that this stress led to feelings of depression and anxiety as well as sleep problems. The same results were not seen for Hispanic teens who were born outside the U.S. and immigrated here. The study included 173 Hispanic teens living in New York City with a mix of those born in the U.S. and those born in foreign countries. The teens were interviewed about discrimination, stress, sleep and mental health issues during their sophomore, junior and senior years of high school. The results of the survey found that all the teens experienced discrimination and related stress to equal degrees. In other words, where the teens were born had no impact on how much discrimination they felt or how much stress it caused them. The main difference was how that stress impacted their mental health. The stress caused by discrimination caused significant symptoms associated with depression and anxiety in the U.S.-born teens, yet another example of the immigrant paradox, which is the observation that people born outside of the U.S. are protected from several mental health problems. The first generation teens were also more sleep deprived than their counterparts because of the stress caused by discrimination. Another survey found that Hispanic teens have a hard time falling asleep on Sunday nights because of stress brought on by the start of the school week. The teens also reported that poor sleep on Sunday affected them negatively for the rest of the week.

Helping Teens Cope With Stress

There was one bright spot in the study on stress and mental health. The researchers found that the negative impact of discrimination stress lessened as the teens got older. This fact demonstrates that young people are resilient and that they can learn to cope with stress. Parents and other adults can help teenagers even more by teaching and demonstrating healthy ways to deal with stressful situations and with stress in general. Help your teen by starting a conversation about discrimination and how it makes them feel. Encouraging them to talk about these things is, in itself, a positive way to cope with stress. You can also use the conversations to discuss ways in which they can handle situations that cause them stress. It’s also important to teach your teen relaxation strategies that will serve them throughout their life. If you practice them together, you will both teach and model these positive strategies for them. Go for walks together, learn to meditate or take a yoga class together. Spending time with your teen and working on stress reduction will be a positive experience for both of you.

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