Almost 75% of high school students self-reported feeling negative about school and struggling with academic pressure and mental health.
Let that sink in for a moment.
These are the alarming findings of a recent study by Yale University that polled almost 22,000 current US high school students.
Ignoring this problem can have serious repercussions. Over time, teenagers can develop anxiety and depression, lose their passion for learning, and fail to reach their academic potential.
As an academic coach, I’ve seen the long-term consequences of academic pressure on students. If it is not addressed, it can create bad habits at best and become debilitating at worst.
In an overwhelmed school system, supporting the mental health of teenagers largely falls on the shoulders of the parents. To help you support your teenagers in these difficult times, I’ve created a list of nine tips you can use to help your teenager manage academic pressure and mental health.
Nine Tips for Managing Academic Pressure and Mental Health
I encourage you to implement these tips at your discretion. You know your teen better than anyone.
1. Address Your Mental Health to Help your Teen
Throughout my experience as an academic coach, tutor, and classroom teacher, I have observed that the most common source of academic pressure comes from parents. Fortunately, it is also the source that you have the most control over.
Do you have stress about your teen’s academic future? If so, you could pass this on to them. Even if the pressure is not explicit, your teen can pick it up in your behavior and attitude.
Academic pressure from parents almost always comes from a good place; you want the best for your teen. However, this desire can become overwhelming and have a negative impact.
I recommend taking the following steps:
- Take some time to consider if you have stress and anxiety about your teen’s academic performance.
- If you believe your stress is excessive, seeing a therapist can help you manage these feelings. I also recommend being transparent. Let your teen know how you are feeling, and, most importantly, ask them how it impacts them.
If you believe your teen is not reaching their academic potential, I recommend working together to develop an actionable plan.
Every parent wants their teen to succeed academically. However, putting excessive pressure on them is counterproductive. There are many effective ways to motivate your teen.
2. Give Praise and Affirmations to Decrease Academic Pressure
One of the best ways to alleviate academic pressure and improve your teen’s mental health is to give positive praise and affirmations. Studies have shown that you should give praise at a ratio of 5:1. In other words, you should give five times more praise than criticism.
Unfortunately, in practice, this ratio often exists in the opposite direction, and teens receive far more negative reinforcement than positive affirmations. An emphasis on the negative can be the driving force behind negative feelings about school, even if your teen is performing well.
The best way to address this problem is to focus on what your teen is doing well. Additionally, pick and choose your battles when it comes to criticism. Remember, we all make many mistakes on our way to adulthood.
When giving praise, it is essential to be genuine and specific. The following are some examples of what you can say:
- I’m so proud of the effort you’ve been putting into your schoolwork
- You must have studied hard for that test because your grades have improved
- You’re doing a great job of managing your time
Notice that all three examples are related to behavior rather than the outcome (i.e., grades). Your teen has far more control over their behavior. Emphasizing the behavior can help your teen sustain their academic performance while minimizing the academic pressure they feel.
By affirming your teen’s efforts, you are letting them know that you see and appreciate their hard work. This type of positive reinforcement can be extremely helpful in alleviating academic pressure and improving mental health.
3. Create a Reward System
Teens often face an abundance of academic pressure because of the negative connotations they develop with school. If your teen perceives school negatively, ambition can turn into anxiety.
A great way to change this perspective is to develop a reward system. A reward system will demonstrate the value of your teen’s hard work and give them something positive to focus on. In an ideal world, grades would be enough, but in reality, grades hold little social or economic value in the eyes of teens.
The key to creating an effective reward system is ensuring the rewards are attainable and focused on the desired behavior instead of the outcome.
It is also essential to avoid using rewards as a way to bribe or manipulate your teen into doing something. Your teen should agree to any reward. Getting their input will make the reward system far more effective.
I also recommend that the reward system be based on behavior rather than the outcome. Outcomes are hard to control, but establishing rewards for studying every day, or turning in homework on time, are far more likely to create positive habits and reduce stress.
If you want to set up a reward system with your teen, I encourage you to have a conversation with them. Let them know that you want to reward them for their hard work academically. Collaborate with them and select behaviors and rewards agreeable to both of you.
4. Encourage Self-Care and Coping Skills To Manage Academic Pressure and Mental health
No matter how positive, caring, and compassionate you are, your teen will still face academic pressure. Since they cannot avoid it, encouraging them to find ways of coping and managing stress are excellent ways to reduce the negative impact of academic pressure on their mental health.
Since self-care is not commonly discussed at school, this is another conversation I recommend you have with your teenager. Talk to your teen about the importance of managing stress and taking care of yourself. Ask them questions about what makes them feel good and what you can do to support them.
If your teen is at a loss or would like suggestions, many different coping skills and self-care activities can help them. The following are some examples of what you can encourage:
- Spending time outside
- Spending time with friends
- Creating art
Your teen may need to experiment with different coping mechanisms until they find the one that works best. Once they have identified the winner, I recommend incorporating it into their schedule.
5. Create a Schedule With To-do Lists
Another great way to help your teen manage academic pressure and mental health is to help them get organized.
Teens often feel overwhelmed by their academics. The strategies they used in middle school may no longer be effective, so they cannot juggle their responsibilities. Many teenagers resort to working harder, which is effective to a certain point but can lead to burnout and anxiety in the long run.
Instead of working harder, show your teen how to work smarter.
One of the best ways to help your teen work efficiently is to create a schedule and a to-do list. There are many ways to make a schedule, but the key is finding what works best for your teen. I recommend using a whiteboard or a planner so they can easily visualize their commitments. Keeping a daily agenda is also a helpful tool.
Your teen may scoff at these old-school methods. Using their phone or an app can also be effective. What matters is that your teen picks a system and sticks with it.
When creating a schedule, I recommend that your teen blocks off time for homework, chores, extra-curricular activities, and self-care. Doing so will ensure that your teen has enough time to complete everything. If you notice that their schedule is too full to accommodate everything, this could be a sign that they are over-committed.
6. Encourage Self-advocacy To Manage Academic Pressure in High School
Developmentally, teens are at a stage where they want to demonstrate their independence. Additionally, many teens perceive that asking for help means they are dumb or don’t know what to do.
As a result, teens put a lot of pressure on themselves to know the correct answer and accomplish things independently without assistance. These individualistic attitudes are the personification of academic stress.
Encouraging your teen to advocate for themselves is an essential step in decreasing the academic pressure they face and also an important step in maintaining their mental health. Asking for help and letting others know you need assistance is one of the best ways to avoid the severe consequences of poor mental health.
Let your teen know that you are there to support them and that they can ask you questions and seek advice. Your teen may balk at this because you are, after all, their parents. You can also encourage them to seek help from other trusted family members, teachers, and mentors.
It may also be helpful to ask your teen questions about their performance in school. Your teen may be overwhelmed and not know where to go for help. This uncertainty is widespread among teens who excelled in middle school but find high school more challenging.
7. Be Transparent About The Academic Pressure and Mental Health Challenges You Faced
One of the most significant sources of academic pressure and poor mental health among teenagers is constantly comparing themselves to the adults around them. They see their parents, teachers, and family friends, who are far more polished and put together than they are.
The comparison teens make between themselves and adults is often the source of unruly and overconfident teenage behavior. Teens feel the need to compensate.
This disconnection can make teens uncomfortable, lack confidence, and create anxiety. The best way to deal with this is to address it directly. Let your teen know about the mistakes you made in the past and the mistakes that you make now.
Being transparent about your successes and failures will help your teen feel more connected to you and demonstrate that it is okay to make mistakes.
Additionally, being open with your teenager about your academic journey can help them understand that there is more than one way to achieve success. You can also talk about how you coped with academic pressure and the techniques you used to manage it.
Transparency and honesty will help your teen understand that they are not alone in feeling the pressures of academic life.
8. Be the Change You Wish To See
As you encourage your teen to implement these tips, it may be challenging for them. They may struggle to understand the importance of these tips if they don’t see the adults around them practicing them.
If you think your teenager would benefit from one or more of these tips, one of the best ways to support them is by modeling it.
For example, if you want your teen to be more organized, create a schedule for yourself and make to-do lists. If you want your teen to exercise more, make time for it in your schedule.
Modeling these behaviors can help bring you closer to your teen, improve your relationship with them, and positively benefit your mental health.
You are your teen’s most significant role model, even if they are a typically flippant teenager. The example that you set can propel them forward.
9. Work With an Academic Coach
Helping your teen manage academic pressure and mental health can be a tremendous challenge.
A great way to allow your teen to feel independent while still giving them the support they need to handle their academics is to hire an academic coach.
An academic coach can help your teen develop healthy study habits, manage their time effectively, reduce stress levels, and implement the tips in this article. Additionally, since an academic coach is not connected to family or school, teens are more likely to listen and heed their advice.
Working with an academic coach is an investment in your teen’s future and can help them succeed academically and improve their mental health.
If you are interested in finding an academic coach for your teen, let’s chat. I’ve helped hundreds of teenagers manage academic pressure, work smarter, not harder, and maintain their mental health. Your teen could be next.
About the Author: John Hyde
I am an educational coach specializing in teaching students academic fundamentals and a growth mindset.
After graduating from Duke University in 2015, I taught at a public middle school from 2016 to 2019. Although I loved working with students in the classroom, the public education system was not teaching students the skills essential to academic success.
I left the classroom in 2019 to start Academic Empowerment Academy. Since then, my coaching program has helped hundreds of students realize their academic potential by assisting them in building confidence and empowering them with the skills and mindset to meet their goals in school and life.
If you’d like to discuss how I can help your teen be more motivated, foster good habits, and improve academic organization/performance, Book a Complimentary Discovery Call Here.
Hi I’m John, author of this blog, academic coach, and founder of AE Academy.
I help teens reach their academic potential by empowering them with academic fundamentals, a growth mindset, and critical thinking.
If your teen is struggling to reach their academic potential, or isn’t learning the skills they need to succeed in school, we should connect.
It’s on me – Book Your Free Call Here