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Academic performance top cause of teen stress

/ Source: The Associated Press

Stressed out by your high-pressured job? Don’t assume your kid is any less stressed out by school. Especially if she’s a she.

Young people experience stress at a high rate, and females more than males, an extensive Associated Press/MTV survey shows. A similar divide exists in terms of fears and safety: Girls and young women are less likely to feel safe in their neighborhoods, in schools, or from terror attacks.

The source of stress changes as we get older, the survey shows. Among 13-17 year olds, school is by far the most commonly mentioned source. Among 18-24 year olds, it’s jobs and financial matters. In all, fully 85 percent of young people said they felt stress at least sometimes.

“I’m a pretty high-stressed person,” says Katie Duda, 21, who’s finishing up a degree in culinary arts and awaiting the birth of her first child in a few weeks. “But if I’m not stressed out, I’m bored.” Right now, it’s the responsibility of parenthood that is stressful to Duda, who lives in Bakersfield, Calif.

“It’s the unknown of it all,” she says. “Not the birth itself, but the next 18 years.”

Academic pressures

Tenth-grader Madelyn Dancy of Memphis has a whole other set of concerns. She wants badly to excel in school so she can fulfill her dream — and the hopes of her family — of becoming a doctor. “That’s why I work so hard,” says the 15 year old. “They’re looking at me to do something in my life that they couldn’t do.” For her, stress comes from schoolwork, and “having to do so much in so little time.” She also plays lacrosse and tries to have a life outside school.

Kelly O’Brien has goals, too — the 20 year old from Santa Rosa, Calif. plans to finish her business administration degree within a year, get married two years from now, and later have a family and own a home. Stress comes from balancing her schoolwork with two part-time jobs, as a bookkeeper and as a candy store clerk.

“It’s always in the back of my mind,” says O’Brien of the financial pressures of young adulthood. “Right now I’m comfortable, but I’ve had friends my age who’ve actually bought a home. I’m like, ’How can they do that?”’

In the survey, 45 percent of girls and young women reported experiencing stress frequently, to 32 percent of boys and young men. Those from urban areas experienced it more frequently than those in rural areas, and surprisingly, those from middle-income households had it more frequently than those from both lower and higher-income households. (Middle-income was defined as between $50,000 and $75,000.)

High stress no surprise

Psychologist Jean Twenge, a professor at San Diego State University, is not surprised by the high stress rate in the AP-MTV survey — a rate 10 points higher than the 75-percent rate among adults in an AP-Ipsos poll last year.

“Anxiety is higher among adolescents,” says Twenge, the author of “Generation Me.” “Thankfully, it tends to wane in their 20s and 30s.” Another explanation, she says, is the difference in generations; anxiety and depression are rising from generation to generation. (The teen suicide rate is down from 15-20 years ago, however, she says — a result of better medication.) Twenge is also not surprised by the male-female divide, which has been documented in other ways.

What is surprising is the higher rate for those from middle-income households, she says: “You’d expect those from a disadvantaged background to have more anxiety.”

Though most feel safe in their neighborhoods and schools, only 25 percent feel “very safe” from terror attacks. Yet when asked about the general threat of terrorism, most say they don’t think about it very often, and haven’t changed how they lead their lives.

“It does cross my mind, but it’s not a big worry,” says Cory Walseth, 19, a construction worker in Thief River Falls, Minn.

For Dancy, the high-school student from Memphis, it’s simply counterproductive to think too much about things like the threat of terrorism.

“The thought is always there,” she says. “I just don’t want to let it run my life.”