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Why hurried teens crack

July 30, 2015


Sixteen year old Jessica is ‘hurried‘ to the point of cracking.

She was originally referred to me by a general physician for an assessment and treatment of her anxiety and Oppositional Defiance Disorder.

At session, her parents unwittingly described her hurriedness. They place an extremely high premium on her school achievement, her homework commitment and her success in her extracurricular pursuits.

She spends every afternoon after school engaged in an activity and she completes all her homework at night, irrespective
of the amount of time that it takes.

Her  parents were categorical.  “We’re sick and tired of her disrespect and ingratitude” given the cost of their investment in her.

By contrast, Jessica seethes with resentment at their indulgence. The pressure to achieve is not for her, she asserts, but for her parents’ reputation in their community. She cannot keep up with their demands on six and a half hours of sleep. Little wonder, then, that her mood and anxiety symptoms were elevated on assessment, and that she often feels “really crap!”  Often she thinks she’s going to “f’g crack!”  That’s because Jessica is emotionally, cognitively and physically exhausted by her hyperactive lifestyle.

Jessica’s parents mean well but …

it seems that, like many nowadays, they’re torn in opposite directions. On the one hand, modern culture dictates that parents provide as many of the very best, most enriching experiences as possible because it might give their kids a kick-start in this increasingly competitive world. Young people should reciprocate the privilege with high-octane performances, achievement and gratitude.

On the other hand, parents know the extent to which the extracurricular activities stress out their kids, and moreover, threaten sleep and sleep quality. In a recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, over thirty percent reported that their children’s busy schedules negatively affect both child and parent sleep.


Jessica needs …

a window of free “chill” time. The allocated downtime is crucial for her mental health and sleep hygiene – the two go together.

So,  I asked Jessica’s parents to compare the stressors on their daughter and their relationship with her with the value of her enrichment activities and high achievement. If they allowed Jessica to reduce her extracurricular commitment, she could complete her homework with some time to spare and time to sleep. Once Jessica had some relief from her hyperactive existence, she and I could develop a flexible homework timetable and a more appropriate sleep programme.

I predicted that when she consistently experienced downtime, and consequently, an adequate amount of sleep, she would be better positioned to discuss her anxiety and family conflict.

The outcome …

At this point, there are signs of progress. Jessica is learning to regulate her anxiety and she no longer feels permanently exhausted, thanks to the family’s commitment to a balanced extra-curricular programme and an appropriate sleep schedule. She’s  unlikely to crack because she’s feels she’s more in control of her life, and importantly, she’s now getting  adequate, good quality sleep.

To find out more about the relationship between stress and sleep, take a look at BUT I’M NOT TIRED! The nature of sleep and how to nurture it in children and teenagers. Just click on the link.

Names, locales, people and incidents have been fictitiously created by the author. Any resemblance to actual people, places or individuals is completely coincidental.

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