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09 December 2014

The pressures of teenage life

The pressures of teenage life

In the latest in our series of articles by pupils from Thames Christian College, Kathleen Eng explores the pressures of being a teenager...

The alcoholic boy who started drinking ten years ago when his friends called him a wimp when he refused. The girl who stopped eating so that she might fit into a pair of jeans with a size zero waist. The boy that felt a failure because his qualifications weren't high enough for medical school.

There's an incredible amount of pressure on young people today: academic and parental expectations, peer pressure and the media. School can be very stressful, especially from the age of 14; you're either getting ready for GCSEs, applying for sixth form and university or doing countless exams. This can cause many teenagers to become stressed. Being too stressed is not what you want while taking exams; overload can lead to depression, isolation, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed.

In Matthew's Gospel, we are told: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest." It is important for students to remember to take time out when stress hits. Planning workload, avoiding procrastination and setting time limits on entertainment activities can help, but the most important thing to remember is to relax and not get caught up in a cycle of anxiety and fear of the future, which can negatively affect your concentration.

Sometimes the pressure to do well is so extreme that university students take drugs in order to focus. A recent survey at Cambridge University revealed that one in 10 students have taken drugs such as Ritalin, a drug meant for ADHD sufferers. Josie Ensor, a reporter for The Telegraph, wrote: "Academics say the number of students using the drug has steadily risen over the last few years as they say the pressure to do well increased during the recession, with some students even faking symptoms of ADHD in order to get prescriptions of Ritalin."

A common reason for students to feel this pressure for academic success is parents. Parents can push their children to take up activities or subjects that their children might have no interest in or ability to do. There is even a danger of parents pressurising their children to achieve their own expectations. Madeline Levine, author of a book on parental pressure, The Price of Privilege, says: "In recent years, numerous studies have shown that bright, charming, seemingly confident and socially skilled teenagers from affluent, loving families are experiencing epidemic rates of depression, substance abuse and anxiety disorders. Materialism, pressure to achieve, perfectionism and disconnection are combining to create a perfect storm that is devastating children and their parents alike."

The pressure to find an prestigious career that makes a lot of money, to be the best football player or get to grade eight in piano can cause broken relationships between adults and their children. When teenagers do activities they don't enjoy, it can cause stress and depression because it is not their heart's desire. Teenagers need to recognise their own talents and pursue their own dreams to be successful. They need encouragement to do this. Philippians 4:6 tells us to "not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God."

Asking for help is one of the most important ways of combating stress. Talking to family, friends or the school counsellor can make a real difference. Choosing positive and supportive friends is also important. Remember to set your own personal goals and not compare yourself to others. In Proverbs 3:5-12, we are reminded: "Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track."

Peer pressure is common among teenagers, not helped by the gang mentality of joining in when others are being picked on, or encouraged to do something they don't want to. 

Another pressure young people are faced with today is from the media to look 'cool'. Being a girl myself, I know that it is very common for girls to spend hours on their hair, clothes and make-up. How is this a form of pressure? Ask yourself: "Why do I spend so much time on myself?" Is it because you want people to think of you in a certain way?

Finally, at this age, teenagers are making choices that will affect their future such as choosing GCSE and A-Level subjects, what activities they're involved in, who they're dating and what career to pursue. What if I get it wrong? How will this impact others? This pressures every young person. All they see are decisions, decisions, decisions! But Matthew 6:34 tells us this: "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it's own."

Undoubtedly pressures abound for teenagers and can cause stress and depression. However, as it says in Deuteronomy: "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."

My experience on a recent school trip to Tanzania has taught me a lot about keeping my own anxieties in perspective. There, young people are faced with the challenges of simply surviving, feeding themselves and staying healthy each day. I was taken aback by how hard the women work and their ability to cope with major disadvantages. For children, education is the only way out of poverty and is passionately valued. It is common for children to walk four or five miles to get to school and go without food and water for the entire day. This is something I remind myself of often.

As Christians it is our job to let teenagers know that God is there for them, and all they need to do to be rid of their burdens is to put their trust in Him. I believe that if we spread the word that God is always with us, and that He will carry our burdens if only we ask, then young people will be able to cope better with the pressures.

by Kathleen Eng, a pupil at Thames Christian College, age 14 years