The Root of the Problem

How old were you when you did your first stress-relieving deep breathing exercise?

The NBC station in Charleston, SC recently did a story on the way a local middle school is reacting to the stress levels of their students. They now provide weekly announcements which include deep breathing and positive thinking exercises.

Students of every age are feeling pressure too from high homework loads, to overscheduled days. Cardiologist Dr. John Kennedy says ‘we all have stress in our lives so if you can teach kids to manage it early, we can protect them from the chronic problems of stress later in life.’


Sure. Kids should learn how to react to the stress they are feeling. I have no doubt that today’s average middle schooler is quite stressed. Teaching kids to manage stress early is quite a good idea.

Here’s my problem…

This “solution,” although helping the short-term, is like putting gum on a crack in the Hoover Dam. Simply not going to cut it!

You have to go to the root of the problem to eliminate the stressors now before they linger into adulthood. It comes down to lifestyle choices… and honestly, much of this comes down to whether or not parents are setting adequate limits AND consistently enforcing them. How many extracurricular activities are these stressed kids enrolled in? I’ve heard (again and again) the argument that kids should participate in a variety of things so that that they will be well-rounded and have the opportunity to explore new interests that will help them later in life, but if the kids are feeling stressed by their schedule, then the negative effects are outweighing the positive. It’s time to say no to some things.

Then there’s the homework issue. I think schools are overloading kids with homework. Not every school and not every teacher, but I know it’s happening. I saw it when I was teaching. There’s nothing worse than homework that is “busy work”… the thematic crossword puzzles, the school projects that have very little meaning behind them. There’s something to be said for maximizing the seven daytime hours that are already spent in the classroom. It’s almost like we’re training kids to be workaholics, telling them that their daytime work is not enough, that they must also work into the evening. What a strange message to send.

Overall stability in the family is also a key element for a stress-free childhood. Stability comes in many forms. Are the parents frequently stressed? Are they able to eat dinner together with their family on a regular basis? Are they getting a solid night of sleep? How much time are they playing video games, on the phone, or on the computer? Are they able to watch anything they want on TV, being exposed to all of the societal crap that leads to enhanced peer pressure and self-consciousness? They have enough “reality” in the halls of their school, without being influenced by the crap on shows like Rock of Love or America’s Next Top Model.

No, it’s not healthy to shelter kids or force to live a 1950’s life in this naturally fast-paced culture, however I think many kids suffering from stress (Juvenile Adultitis) are missing out on the best parts of being a kid and are being forced to grow up way to quickly.

What do you think?

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  1. Kim,
    I find this is a direct reflection of the adults in the kids lives. Many, too many of my coworkers, friends and family find working 50 and 60 hour workweeks normal. They brag when they work 80 hours. We need people to realize that life is more than work – even if you love the work you do. Maybe your article will wake a few people up.

  2. Stress is waking up screaming…and then realizing you weren’t even asleep.

  3. You didn’t even mention the things that caused me the most stress in junior high — looking ridiculous in front of the boy I had a crush on, losing a “friend” because I wore the wrong clothes, avoiding bullies in the bathrooms, and trying not to get lost in the “big” new school.

    Maybe today’s kids are too busy worrying about homework & extra-curriculars to get stressed about hormones and social pressure. That could be a good thing.

  4. Excellent point! It reminds me of what I used to enjoy quoting when I was in school… “Homework causes brain damage.”

  5. Libby says:

    To make your point about stress in our society, I met someone last weekend who retired a year ago and says it’s been so great for his health. For 25 years he took a migraine pill every day. He took his last one on his last day of work. His blood pressure was a bit high and in two months it was back to a healthy range. That is eye-opening to me how much stress and work we pile on ourselves.

    My child is registered for kindergarten in the fall, and while this year’s kindergarten parents claim it’s no big deal (really), they have informed me that the kids have a homework paper once a week! I almost came unglued initially. The other evening at tee ball though, I heard one Mom say that she really hated those papers! Honestly, I don’t remember having any serious homework until fourth grade! Otherwise they they praise the school and the teacher. Also they still have two recesses a day, two sessions of p.e., and also art and music and library time weekly, so I think they still let the kids be kids at our school, thankfully. We’ll see…


  1. […] The Root of the Problem | A post on how to REALLY help kids deal with stress. […]

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