5 stress factors for teens who learn and think differently

5 stress factors for teens who learn and think differently, black girl sitting at a desk in school holding her head in stress

At a glance

  • High school pressures can be extra stressful for kids who learn and think differently.

  • They might feel more anxious and worried than other kids their age.

  • You can help relieve some of your child’s stress and build confidence.

High school can bring a whole new level of stress for kids who learn and think differently. More work and worries about life after high school can loom large for teens.

Here are common reasons for high school stress — and how to help your child manage the pressure.

1. Fear of failure

Kids who’ve struggled in school might come to high school with a history of setbacks. Past failures can make the demands of high school feel even greater.

What you can do: Remind kids of their strengths and of the strides they’ve already made. Talk about how they didn’t give up and how that will help them now and in the future. And get an expert’s advice on how to manage fear of failure in school.

2. Tougher academics and more responsibilities

Academic demands increase with every year of high school. Even if kids made great progress in middle school, they know the work will get more challenging. At the same time, they have to self-advocate more and speak up for what they need.

What you can do: Remind kids of the support they have — both at home and at school. Encourage them to reach out to teachers for help. Kids who have an can reach out to the IEP case manager, too, and even ask about including self-advocacy goals in their IEP.

3. Social pressures

Social situations can also be a source of stress for teens. They might feel pressure to fit in, to be popular, and to have a lot of friends — whether these are real friends or not. And as teens get more independent, they may find themselves in new and even risky situations where they need to make tough choices.

What you can do: Get tips on when to let teens face the consequences of their actions.

4. Uncertainty about the future

In high school, kids have to start thinking about what kind of career they want to pursue. They also have to choose a path: college, work, vocational training. Kids with IEPs will go through a formal process to plan that transition. But that alone may not lessen the stress.

What you can do: Remind your child that feeling unsure or worried about the future is normal. Explain that there are many ways to thrive and be happy in life. And talk about different paths kids can take — including careers for kids who don’t want to sit at a desk.

5. Concerns about college

Just thinking about college can be stressful for kids who learn and think differently. But the process of getting in has its own stressors. These include taking college entrance exams, filling out applications, and choosing a school.

What you can do: Talk about types of colleges and how they differ. Discuss how you’ll work with the case manager (if your child has one) to get college testing accommodations. Also, explain why it’s important that your child take the lead in choosing a college, and share realistic tips to help guide choices.

It’s natural for teens who learn and think differently to feel stressed out. And not all stress is bad. But ongoing stress can sometimes lead to mental health challenges.

Know the signs of anxiety and depression, and reach out to your health care provider if you have concerns. And get tips for talking to teens about fears about the future.

Key takeaways

  • Social pressures and fear of failure are common stressors for teens who learn and think differently.

  • Tell your child that feeling unsure or worried about the future is common.

  • Ongoing stress can lead to anxiety or depression, so be aware of the signs.


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