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By Kelsey Weber, LSW – March 26, 2019

Middle school students are faced with challenges each and every day.  Whether these challenges come from home, school, friends, or other environmental factors, stress can overwhelm kids.

Stress is an uncomfortable feeling someone develops when they’re scared, angry, worried, or frustrated, which affects their mood and body in many different ways. What’s important to remember is that children and adolescents experience stress the same way adults do.

Middle school students can be very susceptible to stress because of the immense changes they’re experiencing physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually during these years.

A middle school student may be experiencing stressors such as homework load, a busy schedule, peer pressure, test anxiety, grades, image concerns, lack of support, and changes in routine. This does not include any stressors occurring at home or other out-of-school environments.

So what should parents look for as warning signs that their child is experiencing stress? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many students who are feeling overwhelmed and stressed may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Frequent stomach aches and/or headaches
  • Changes in appetite
  • Chronic worrying
  • Nail biting
  • Changes in mood/mood swings
  • Fatigue and increased desire to sleep
  • Sadness/depression
  • Retreating to bedroom/withdrawn
  • Self-harm
  • “Checking out” from responsibilities
  • Frequent absences
  • Physical aggression
  • Quick temper
  • Frequent crying
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lying to teachers/parents
  • Failing grades
  • Substance abuse

Although many middle school students experience stress, there are healthy ways for parents and students to develop coping strategies to manage it. Parents can help their children by teaching them time management skills; ensuring they aren’t overscheduled; encouraging sleep, exercise, and healthy eating; monitoring parental pressure, encouraging outdoor play, and allowing the child to have fun.

Parents can also assist in identifying stressors their children may be experiencing by asking questions and beginning a conversation.  A parent could say, “I’ve noticed something has been bothering you” or “You mentioned you have a lot of homework lately; how are you feeling about that?” to get the conversation flowing. Just helping pinpoint the stressor will give your child a sense of relief.

By identifying the stressor(s), students can avoid the situations that cause them stress. Examples would be avoiding people who might be a bad influence, staying away from places where they’re likely to get in trouble, and avoiding things that may upset them. When they know their stressors, students can choose to not be around those people, places, and things.

Lastly, taking care of your body plays a very important role in managing stress. As mentioned above, exercise, active relaxation, eating healthy and sleep are vital for lowering stress levels in middle schoolers.  

Exercise is the most important part of a stress management plan. Many people do not see the need for exercise nor have the time for it, but when you are stressed you need exercise the most. After you exercise and use up stress hormones, you think better and are able to focus and learn more.

Active relaxation is important because your body can only use the relaxed OR emergency nervous system, not both. This 4-8 deep breathing technique helps aid in relaxation:

  • Sit or lie down and place your hands on your belly. Take a deep breath, trying to expand your belly pulling your hands apart. Take a full breath counting to 4, hold your breath counting to 8, and then slowly let out counting to 8. Try this technique 10 times, focusing on your breathing and giving your full concentration.

Eating healthy will help keep students alert throughout the day and their mood steady. People who eat mainly junk food often have highs and lows in their energy levels, which create more stress on their bodies. Eating a healthy, well balanced diet will aid in stress management.

Sleep aids in thinking clearly and mood management. When students are tired, they can’t learn as well and will often be impatient and irritable. Students can improve their sleep by going to sleep at the same time each night, taking a hot shower one hour before bedtime to relax, putting away all electronics one hour before bed, and allowing some wind-down time before lying in bed. 

Creating and following a stress management plan will help students lower their stress levels and deal with the daily challenges they are faced with. One of the best ways to be happy and successful is to manage stress well.

By Kelsey Weber, LSW, March 20, 2018 –

“Dinner’s ready, it’s time to come in.”  “But Mom, just five more minutes!”

Do you remember playing outside until dark, hearing your parents call for you to come home and not wanting to go inside?

Fast forward 20 years.  Does it seem as though your child is always inside watching TV, playing video games or accessing social media on their phone?

In the last two decades, childhood outdoor play has decreased while indoor play has increased. This has taken a toll mentally and physically on today’s youth.

Spending less time outdoors has contributed to a rise in childhood obesity and the decline of creativity, concentration and social skills.

The National Wildlife Federation states the average American child spends as little as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day and more than seven hours each day in front of a screen, compared to three hours a day in 1995.  In our expanding world of technology, it is extremely difficult for children to get away from electronics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents monitor screen time for children ages 1-18 and never allow it to replace healthy activities – particularly sleep, social interaction and physical activity.

Too much screen time affects children in the following ways:

  • Children who consistently spend more than four hours per day on a screen are more likely to be overweight.
  • Children who watch violent TV shows or play violent video games are more likely to display aggressive behaviors or fear the world around them.
  • Children can be influenced by TV and video game characters that often display risky behaviors such as smoking and drinking.

So, what are the benefits of dropping technology and heading outside?

Evidence demonstrates the many benefits nature has on children’s psychological and physical well-being. Recent studies have shown the necessity of spending time outdoors to reduce stress, increase creativity, and improve physical health and concentration.

Children who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than children who spend more time indoors.  Play in nature includes, but is not limited to, these benefits:

  • Children build confidence by having less structure than most types of indoor play. Interacting in outdoor enivronments is limitless and allows children to choose how they treat and play in nature.
  • Nature promotes creativity and imagination by allowing children to interact meaningfully with their surroundings, which develops free thinking, creation of new activities, and viewing the world in different ways.
  • Children learn responsibility by taking care of living things and the environment that surrounds them.
  • Nature provides more stimulation than TV or video games due to the activation of more senses by being able to see, hear, smell, and touch the outdoors.
  • Nature helps increase physical activity.
  • Nature increases children’s ability to focus, which decreases the negative effects associated with ADHD.
  • Nature creates a sense of wonder. For example, a child can watch animals interacting and ask questions to learn and understand.
  • Nature reduces stress and fatigue. Having wide open spaces enables children to run and play while ignoring distractions, burning energy, and decreasing daily stressors that exhaust their brains.

Although your child may want screen time and it may sometimes be the easier approach, the benefits of nature outweigh any possible benefits of screen time.

So, what can parents do to help get their children off the couch and outside? Parents can take their kids on walks, encourage outdoor games with friends, limit screen time per day, plan regular times for outdoor play, create activities with family members, and much more.

“It’s not so much what children know about nature that’s important, as what happens to them when they are in nature.”- Unknown