Here is an anecdote I heard from a mom of one of my daughter’s friends.
Jane and Lilly were partnered up for a project in their seventh grade science class. They were learning about a specific disease, and the details of it were a bit confusing. Jane repeatedly raised her hand and asked the teacher to clarify the assignment. Lilly said the teacher explained the task several times in various ways. The girls—friendly, but not friends—were supposed to brainstorm ideas and take notes on one computer. Jane offered to be the note taker and as they began, Lilly said, Jane became increasingly agitated.
“Don’t you hate when things don’t make sense? And you try to understand and they still don’t make sense?” Jane huffed, loudly striking the laptop keys as she typed. “Does that ever happen to you? Does it upset you?”
“Well,” Lilly said, trying to be thoughtful, “if I don’t understand something I take a deep breath. Eventually, I guess, I usually figure it out.”
Lilly said Jane continued to aggressively pound the keyboard and her breathing grew louder. The teacher approached. “Jane, maybe take a bathroom break or go get some water,” the teacher said.
“Nah, I’m ok,” Jane said.
“No, you should go,” the teacher urged. “Get some water.”
As Jane stepped out, so did the teacher. Lilly, describing the incident to her mom, said Jane was having a full-blown panic attack. Jane did not return to class that day. “That’s what’s happening. We all feel pressure, and a lot of us deal with it in different ways, but if anxiety and stress are happening now—in SEVENTH GRADE—how bad will things be in high school?”
Wow. I know school gets more challenging as our kids grow up, but discussion of anxiety, panic attacks while they are only in 7th grade?!
At 13, so much is happening for these kids. Raging hormones. Shifting friend groups. Fitting in. Intensified workload. The list goes on. The pressure for academic success is enormous in our city. If they don’t get it from home, then they feed on their peers’ anxieties at school.
As a parent, I tell myself I can only do my best. And I tell my teen that she should just try to do her best. Listen. Be supportive. Be present.
Some additional words of wisdom on helping your child learn to cope with school stress and anxiety can’t hurt though. Check out: