Study identifies school stresses for Naperville students

By Cathy Janek for Chronicle Media

About 50 percent of the 4,800 students who completed the survey stated they rarely talk to someone about their stress, according to KidsMatter, the Naperville not-for-profit which sponsored the survey.

It’s not easy being a kid these days in Naperville and nearby schools.

Around three quarters of both 7th and 10th graders say they experience moderate to high stress levels, based on the results of a survey of Naperville Community School District 203 and Indian Prairie School

District 204 students by KidsMatter, the Naperville not-for-profit which sponsored the survey.

About 50 percent  of the 4,800 students who completed the survey stated they rarely talk to someone about their stress.  Of those that do, they most often seek out parents, peers, or coaches and teachers.

Seventh graders want less homework and 10th graders want more time while both groups want more and better quality sleep, based on the survey results.

“Stress is an inevitable part of everyday life,” said North Central College Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Patricia Schacht who designed the survey. “However, it is also relative and we each deal with it in a different way.

“A student who is taking one AP class can be super stressed out. Another kid can be taking four and not be affected,” she added.  “We all have different reactions to stress—emotional, cognitive, and physical reactions.”

The survey targeted coping mechanisms kids used to offset pressures.

Watching Netflix, playing video games, listening to music, or spending time with others  were healthy behaviors to cope with stress, Dr. Schacht said.

Only 1 percent  of 7th graders said they drink alcohol in response to stress. By 10th grade 16 percent  are using alcohol and 5 percent  are using drugs  such as marijuana, pain pills, Xanax, and Adderall to cope.

Dr. Schacht, who has two children and lives in Naperville herself said, “I really wanted to listen to our kids. I wanted to ask them what is happening, what are you experiencing, what can we do to help.

“We wanted to identify which factors are causing kids stress and in particular what coping strategies, both positive and negative, are adolescents using to deal with stress,” she added.

Tenth grade students surveyed said that their stress made it difficult for them to concentrate.

“They lose track of what they are working on. They get off task and they can’t focus,” Dr. Schacht said.

Tenth graders surveyed also reported that academic competition caused the most anxiety, followed by competition in extracurricular activities and among peers.

For seventh graders, large amounts of homework, the pressure to get good grades, over-scheduling, and pressure from parents were the highest school-related stress factors.

“Kids are putting a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed,” Dr. Schacht said.

Seventh graders also faced competition in terms of academics, athletics and in extracurricular activities, based on the survey results.

Social standards such as fitting in, being part of a group, and having someone to rely on also caused 7th graders high level of stress.

“Bullying caused 28 percent  of the 7th graders surveyed some level of stress,” she added.

The survey stemmed from discussions related to stress of children by community leaders over the last 12 to 18 months, according to Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall.

“Our goal was to seek to understand the answer to valuable questions such as what the factors of stress are, what root causes are, and what are the coping mechanisms,” he said.

It has been 10 years since a similar survey was conducted in Naperville.

At that time, the survey found three key factors —competition in academics, athletics and materialistic things, over-involvement in extracurricular, and perfectionism over personal best, KidsMatter Executive Director IdaLynn Wenhold said.

“So much has happened since that survey. Kids are connected 24/7 to social media,” she added.

Wenhold added, “Five years ago, we struggled as a community, losing 12 young people to heroin overdose.”

Identifying the results is just the beginning, Wenhold said. “We will work hard to create resources to wrap around these stressors.”

The Collaborative Youth Team of KidsMatter set up a crisis text line.  Someone experiencing depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bullying, suicidal thoughts, or other painful emotions can text REACH to 741741 to connect with a trained counselor 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Another new resource for parents–Ask the Expert Live gives direct access to professionals from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, part of Edward-Elmhurst Health and located right next to Edward Hospital in central Naperville—free of charge.

Survey results also will be presented in workshops in schools, mom’s groups, faith communities, and other parenting groups.

“Naperville is united in its efforts to ensure kids can grow up healthy despite these stressors,” Wenhold added.





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