Helping Stressed-Out College-Bound Kids

Finding the right college, preparing for higher education and maintaining a life can be all consuming for teens. Here, Patricia Bostwick, MA, LPC, the Director of College Counseling with The Roeper School offers advice helping high schoolers find a balance.

Boy, time sure flies by. Seems like just yesterday that Junior was learning how to use the toilet, and now he’s applying to college – and probably acting a little grumpy and overwhelmed. As adults, it can sometimes be difficult for us to remember just how stressful our high school years were, and your high schooler’s newfound attitude could be a sign that he or she is stressed to the max. What’s a parent to do?

Patricia Bostwick, a college counselor with more than 30 years of experience, including five years at The Roeper School, a school for gifted kids between the ages of 2 and 18, knows all too well the signs of a stressed-out student. Find out what she looks for, ways to cope and tips to nip academic anxiety in the bud.

Start early

Getting your child in gear for higher education doesn’t start in high school. It starts much earlier than that. “We want them to learn who they are as students and develop skills and interests early on. That way they are much more prepared, and less stressed, when the college process begins,” Bostwick says.

Beginning in middle school, parents should encourage their children to become independent and organized learners, without interfering too much in their studies.

“I think they get more stressed out if they don’t establish these patterns,” Bostwick says. “One of the things that we stress to our middle and upper school parents is not running interference, and letting the kids do their own homework assignments.”

This includes allowing your child to make some of their own decisions, and letting them deal with the consequences of those actions, especially in middle school.

Symptoms of stress

Random mood swings and overall withdrawal from life could mean that your child is burned out.

“Mood swings are part of the natural teenage experience. But if they are procrastinating and shutting down, or stop producing, it may be a sign that they are getting burned out,” Bostwick says.

Start by making sure that the child is getting enough sleep at night and seeking academic help through a tutoring center or resource room, if needed.

Limit screen time

Another way to curb this anxiety, according to Bostwick, is to limit a child’s screen time.

“I think there’s a big issue with social media, and students not talking to each other,” she says. “A lot of times, kids are on their phones and not doing homework, or even having face to face conversations.”

She recommends limiting phone time to 1-2 hours a day when they are at home. Fill this time with family activities, getaways and opportunities to talk. Even something as simple as family dinner can be beneficial. Bostwick also says it’s a good idea to not allow the phone in the room when the child is trying to sleep.

Encourage extracurriculars

It may seem a little counter-intuitive, adding another piece onto your child’s already overfilled plate, but Bostwick says that students who are involved in after-school activities that they enjoy, including sports, band and theater, tend to do well academically.

“The ones that have other interests tend to be OK,” she says. “They can’t stress out because they are busy doing other things.”

A part-time job is also an option to get older students’ minds busy, but they must be able to set boundaries with their boss.

“Work can be more of an issue,” Bostwick says. “Limit the hours to around 15 hours a week, and don’t let the employer encourage them to work too much.”

Lay off a little

Sometimes the “best colleges” aren’t always the right colleges for every student, so don’t push them one way or another. In her eyes, Bostwick says that a success story is watching her students getting into the school that is right for them.

“We have students that go to Stanford, Yale, and MIT, Sarah Lawrence and West Point, University of Michigan and University of Alabama. Our goal is for every Roeper student to go to the place that is right for them,” she explains. “They are really different kids going to these places, and we are really pleased with how they do.”

If your child is aiming for a specific college, encourage them to see their counselor in their junior year, or earlier, to set a plan. During application time in their senior year, be patient with them and try not to add any additional responsibilities. Bostwick says, “I try to remind my students and parents: ‘It’s just school, it does not define your worth. If you learn and develop character during your middle and high school years, you’ll be just fine.'”


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