Feature News

Professor Patricia Schacht unpacks reasons why Naperville teens are stressed

Feb 02, 2018

School, competition and peers are the top three factors causing stress among Naperville teenagers, according to Patricia Schacht, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology. Schacht delivered results of a survey designed to unpack the reasons why Naperville teenagers experience stress in a “State of the Kids” community report delivered Jan. 30 in the city’s municipal hall.

While “we’re not surprised,” Schacht said, other aspects of the survey revealed that more than 50 percent of students claim that they “rarely or never” talk to someone about their stress and its daily impact.

“Why does stress matter? Stress can become chronic and multi-dimensional, and stress overwhelms all other parts of our lives,” said Schacht. “Stress is a mental or emotional worry caused by problems in your life, school and home.”

About 4,700 seventh- and 10th-grade students from Naperville School District 203 and Indian Prairie School District 204 responded to the survey administered in October. In partnership with KidsMatter—a Naperville nonprofit youth organization—Schacht developed and conducted the survey, enlisting the help of Abena Owusu ’18, psychology and neuroscience major, and others.

“We’re trying to reduce mental health stigma,” said Owusu. “It’s good to be part of a project that pushes for culture change, especially at a young demographic.”

“Kids are talking about the pressure they feel from academics, as well as personal and parent pressure,” Schacht said in an interview. According to the survey, Schacht said the main causes of daily stress are “pressure from parents, pressure from self and conflict with parents.”

Among seventh graders, 53 percent said that personal expectations and pressure cause them daily stress, and 77 percent of 10th graders said that personal expectations produce daily stress.

School is ranked as the top source of stress for both seventh and 10th grade students surveyed, Schacht said. If you ask an adult what causes them stress, they will say work, so “it’s not surprising that school is kids’ biggest stressor. School is their job,” Schacht explained. Students said too much homework and the pressure to earn good grades causes them tension.

In the competition area, seventh-graders said athletics, academics and extracurricular activities produce stress. For 10th graders, academics and a tie between extracurricular activities and peers cause them strain.

Both grades said the “need to fit in” and “feeling like you have someone to rely on” causes stress. Other factors in the peer category included bullying, lack of a significant other and social media.

What are kids doing to cope? “The good news is that the majority of kids are watching Netflix, and they are also playing video games, listening to music and spending time with others,” said Schacht, deeming these coping mechanisms positive behaviors.

Ninety-eight percent of seventh graders said they never drink alcohol, and 99 percent do not smoke. Ninety-nine percent said they do not use drugs not prescribed to them.

For 10th graders, 84 percent said they never drink alcohol but 16 percent do, reported Schacht. Ninety-eight percent do not smoke and 94 percent do not use drugs not prescribed to them. Three percent said they rarely use drugs not prescribed to them in response to stress, but two percent sometimes do and one percent said often.

When asked what students need to better handle stress, they responded with “less homework and better quality sleep,” said Schacht. “The survey gave kids a voice. That has been the most interesting part for me, along with having so many community partners interested in helping kids,” she said.

The survey was scientific and quantitatively valued, said Schacht. Youth groups and North Central students piloted the survey, and Schacht submitted the survey to the College’s Institutional Review Board to ensure the survey was ethically sound. She also worked with local psychotherapists, district school administrators, social and psychological workers and others.

“Our goal was to seek to understand and ask valuable questions,” said Naperville Police Chief Bob Marshall. “We care about the youth of this community.”

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said while there is no single answer to what is going on in our children’s lives, the entire community has a responsibility to help Naperville’s children grow up to be thriving and successful adults.

The CEO of KidsMatter, IdaLynn Wenhold, said presenting the results is just the beginning. Naperville is united in its efforts to provide resources and support for youth.

Wenhold approached Schacht nearly two years ago about conducting the survey. “IdaLynn is the heart of this (project), but the collaboration has been comprehensive,” said Schacht.

As a parent of two children, Schact observed, “Knowing people who are trying to help is a good thing. Kids want to feel safe and understood.”