5 Ways Parents Can Help Daughters Overcome Stress in High School
by Taylor Marrs MSW and Craig Moorman Ph.D
When girls enter high school they face more pressure than just the weight of their backpacks. They face hours of demanding homework, higher expectations at home and school, as well as a more complicated social schedule. While each girl enters adolescence with her own fears and anxieties, parents can help make this transition a little less burdensome.
1. Remind your daughter of how she coped well in the past
Entering high school may be a rite of passage, but it can also be a time of great stress for many girls. Those that haven't changed schools before, will find the new faces and routines daunting. They may encounter additional stress because girls tend to internalize their fears and put more pressure on themselves to measure up to the expectations of their parents and peers. Parents can help by reminding their daughter of times when they coped well in a previously stressful situation and use your own experiences.
How To: With many of the stressors high school presents being new and unfamiliar, it’s possible your daughter could be confronted with a problem or frustration and not know where or how to begin. By using their own experiences and their daughters past successes, parents can model coping and effective problem solving by managing emotions and taking small steps to help work towards a solution.
2. Understand, empathize, and share personal stories
Adolescence is a period where girls begin to devote more of their time to socializing. Girls are particularly vulnerable to stress because peer acceptance is far more important than it had been in elementary school. Teens that are shy or insecure may be even more anxious if they do not have a large group of friends when they enter high school.
During this time, many pre-existing groups of friends split up to go to different schools or start new friendships. Parents can help by spending more time talking with their daughter about school. This allows parents to better understand and empathize with their daughter's stress. Also, by having parents share personal stories of when they felt nervous or scared at school, they can help their daughter feel like her anxiety is taken seriously at home.
How To: Teens can experience a variety of thoughts and emotions throughout a day in high school. Most days, a simple “How was your day?” will not suffice to unpack them all. Ask more pointed questions such as “What was something cool or funny that happened today?” or “Tell me about something challenging…”. Due to the importance of socialization and peer relationships in high school, teens will often view social interactions as the biggest takeaways from their day. Learn the names of your daughter’s friends and ask, “How are Elise and Alexandra today?”.
3. Focus on all her talents of self-worth
Girls are often pushed to be the perfect student, friend, sibling, and daughter by those around them. This puts unbelievable pressure on many girls. While some may feel that they cannot meet this challenge, others seem to thrive under the pressure of it. Still, this pressure helps contribute to their vulnerability at this time. They may skip meals or lose sleep because they are worrying about meeting the expectations of those around them.
When the pressure becomes too much or they are physically exhausted, girls may give up, procrastinate, or hand in incomplete work. Parents can help their daughter become resilient by showing her that she does not need to base her worth on test scores or other external achievements. Instead, they can remind her of other talents such as humor, honesty, loyalty, or integrity that make her the person that she is.
How To: When valuing oneself, teen girls often shed more light on the negative than the positive. Even if your teen is struggling, acknowledge the things they are doing well. If they bring home a report card with four A’s and two C’s, acknowledge where improvements can be made, but recognize the effort put into achieving each high mark as well.
4. Help her put her problems in perspective
Girls are susceptible to stress because they tend to be more sensitive to personal or family tensions and may find it harder to concentrate on schoolwork when they are having problems in other areas of their lives. Many times, a girl will fail an important test, not because she didn't study, but because she was distracted by a problem in her personal life that was unrelated to the test. During a time when girls are trying to fit in and are experiencing their first relationships, they are much more sensitive to problems outside of schoolwork.
How To: Parents can help by teaching their daughter how to put her problems into perspective. Many girls become obsessed with a problem that may become trivial or non-existent in the following days. By helping girls realize which problems are immediate and which can be put aside until later, they can learn to limit their stress by focusing on what is immediately important.
5. Recognize the purpose and impact of extracurricular activities
Extracurricular activities can improve a teen girl’s self-confidence, in-school engagement, and even academic achievement. In many cases, however, the pressure to perform in activities such as sports, music, and arts can outweigh the positive influence that extracurriculars bring to the table. Because performance in extracurriculars can correlate to feelings of achievement, it can be hard for teen girls to recognize achievement without winning, playing well, or performing how they would like.
How To: Allowing your daughter to engage in activities she is truly passionate about can help her appreciate the process even when the results aren’t according to plan. In the wake of losses, bad games, or frustration, focusing on your teen’s growth and experience in a given sport or activity can reinforce why she began to participate in the first place. Remind your daughter that the purpose of out of school activities is to have fun, engage with peers, and to try new things. This can help ensure that your daughter’s extracurriculars are alleviating stress rather than contributing to it.
The beginning of high school can be a high-risk time for girls. This often leaves parents confused, bewildered, and unsure of what they can do to help. By talking with their daughter and teaching her skills such as empowerment and inner self-worth, she will be better able to handle the stress and anxieties encountered during this important stage of her life.
For a consultation with an Adolescent Specialist, please contact Taylor Marrs at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-636-2888, ext. 16.