Giving Teens a Voice: Sources of Stress for High School Students

(1) Ocean Lakes High School, Virginia Beach, Virginia
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Teen stress is a pressing health issue in the United States. Consistent, long-lasting stress can weaken the immune system and wear down physical reserves, leaving teens susceptible to negative mental and physical health outcomes. Recent legislation in the state of Virginia (HB1604/SB953) mandates the revision of the Health and Physical Education curriculum to incorporate standards of learning (SOL) that recognize mental health and the important connections between physical and mental health. The aim of our project was to create a survey that allows teens to have a voice in the conversation about revising the health SOL in response to student-reported stress and support factors. Using convenience sampling, high schoolers (n = 332) were invited to participate in an anonymous online survey. To identify factors contributing to teen stress levels, participants were asked about their demographics, high school courses and activities, free time, and perception of the support they receive. Stress levels were then evaluated using Cohen’s validated 4-item Perceived Stress Scale. Regression and correlation analysis findings suggest that a student’s gender, homework level, amount of free and sleep time, perceived parental pressure, and family encouragement of relaxation predicted their perceived stress. Students who felt guilty taking time off or who worried about violence had higher stress levels than other teens, indicating that students’ emotions play a role in their stress perceptions. Results from this study can help school communities identify sources of teen stress and inform the development of educational instruction that helps students successfully reduce and cope with stress.

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