When Clear Springs High School senior Anna Lassmann sits down to do schoolwork, she sets small goals for herself.

“If I have a bunch of homework, I’ll make myself do a certain amount before I let myself eat dinner,” she said. “And then I’ll do a certain amount more before I let myself take a shower. It just keeps going.”

Texas City High School junior Michael Martinez said he was the opposite. He sets small goals, but once he finishes one section of work, he’s done for the night.

“Then it’s the next day and I’m like, ‘Oh, I was supposed to do this, too.’ I go back and do the same thing over every single night,” he said.

High schools nationwide are beginning to acknowledge that students are too stressed. Programs, including stress management seminars, longer lunch periods and homework caps, are a part of a growing initiative to keep students like Anna Lassmann from fasting until she can get through four more chapters of reading and a math assignment.

Anna Lassmann
"If I have to stay up until 1 a.m. to get stuff done, that's just what's going to happen."

Anna Lassmann, Clear Springs High School senior
Anna Lassmann

Teens reported symptoms of stress, such as a sense of being overwhelmed, lying awake at night, headaches and skipping meals, according to a 2014 study by the American Psychological Association. Of those having symptoms — which can also include feelings of irritability, anger, depression, or sadness — 73 percent reported experiencing more than one symptom.

Teenage boys reported stress levels a full point lower — 4.1 — than teenage girls — 5.1 — on a 10-point scale, with 10 marking the high end. Girls on average reported stress levels equal to that of adults of both sexes.

A panel of four teenagers — two from Clear Springs High School, seniors Anna Lassmann and her twin brother, Aaron, and two from Texas City High School, Martinez and senior Brooke Beanland — spoke to The Daily News in March and agreed that girls stress out more than their male counterparts.

“When it comes to AP classes and coursework, they usually take more,” Aaron Lassmann said. “In my AP English class there’s like 25 people and only six guys in the class. I feel like (girls) are more concerned with school.”

His sister cited another reason for girls’ increased stress levels.

“Boys don’t have to look as good all the time,” Anna Lassmann said.

Boys stress more about sports, if they are involved in them, than about school, Martinez said.

But baseball helps him handle the stress of school, he said.

“Every time I go out to the baseball field, I forget about anything else I have to do until I get back home,” Martinez said.

While the other three students said they slept to help deal with stress, they also agreed that physical activity lowered their stress levels.

“When I run or go work out at the gym, afterward I feel like I did something productive, so I just stay productive,” Beanland said.

Richard Rupp, chief of adolescent and behavioral medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said teenagers are at a higher risk for stress because they hadn’t fully developed coping skills.

“Teenagers can handle more stress in a supportive environment,” he said. “Families can provide support by lending an ear, providing some structure and helping to provide needed resources.

“Parents should listen to their teen’s concerns and give the teenager feedback on his or her plan for dealing with issues. Teenagers need to learn how to handle things themselves but guidance from their parents is important.”

Michael Martinez
"Every time I go out to the baseball field, I forget about anything else I have to do until I get back home."

Michael Martinez, Texas City High School junior
Michael Martinez

Stressful situations

When asked what caused them the most stress, the panel of teenagers overwhelmingly said school. The teens reported their stress levels generally at a 6.5 on the 10-point scale.

The three seniors on the panel agreed that the first semester of senior year was the most stressful because they were waiting to find out whether they would get into college.

“Some teenagers stress over getting into the ‘right school,’” Rupp said. “Many put themselves under pressure to get scholarships through participating in every club or sport possible. It becomes a big competition to see how many awards and honors they can get for their college applications. This in turn keeps them from really enjoying anything.”

But now that the seniors know what school they are going to — all three will attend the University of Texas at Austin in the fall — pre-college nerves have set in.

“It’s never-ending,” Beanland said about stressing over school.

Anna Lassmann agreed, saying, “It just starts all over again.”

While none of the students on the panel could pinpoint anyone else in their lives that made them feel stressed, both girls said they stress themselves out.

“I think we put our own expectations out there,” Anna Lassmann said.

In the same 2014 American Psychological Association study, 83 percent of teenagers said they stressed about school and 65 percent said they stressed about their parents’ financial situation.

On average, the students on the panel rated their stress level in regards to their parents’ financial situations at a 5 on the 10-point scale.

“My parents will have two kids in college next year,” Beanland said. “It’s something that’s on my mind, because I know how expensive it is, especially this year when you’re applying for everything, like housing and stuff, and seeing how much it all costs.

“It makes me so grateful that my parents are helping. I’m 18, so technically they don’t have to help me pay for college. It helps knowing they’re supportive of it and helping me, so I don’t go into debt before I even get out in the world.”

There’s a wide disconnect between teens and parents about who will foot the bill for college, according to a 2015 survey by Junior Achievement USA and The Allstate Foundation.

The survey reported that 48 percent of kids aged 13 to 18 think their parents will help pay for college, while 16 percent of parents with 13- to 18-year-olds said they plan to pay for college.

Anna and Aaron Lassmann and Beanland agreed it was not necessarily the parents’ responsibility to pay for college.

Martinez disagreed.

“If the parents want their children to continue their education, then they should be there to help,” he said.

With college tuition and fees increasing each year, it is unrealistic to think teenagers would be able to pay such a sum on their own, Beanland said.

“You can’t expect them to work a job that will pay for it all and have time for school.”

Aaron Lassmann
"In my AP English class there's like 25 people and only six guys in the class. I feel like (girls) are more concerned with school."

Aaron Lassmann, Clear Springs High School senior
Aaron Lassmann

Performance enhancement

Teens thought a healthy level of stress was 3.9 on the 10-point scale, while adults reported 3.1, according to the 2014 American Psychological Association study.

“Good stress excites and engages people,” Rupp said. “It helps us focus on getting things done and helps provide the energy to do so.

“Stress becomes harmful when it starts interfering with the tasks at hand and day-to-day activities. Instead of being focused on the task, the person begins to worry about failure and the consequences. Day-to-day activities begin to suffer.”

Three out of four of the students on the panel said stress effected their school work positively.

“I stress about it, but I’ve never not done something,” Beanland said. “I’ve never turned in subpar work. Knowing that I’ve got these things to do, it keeps me on that track of getting things done.”

Aaron Lassmann said he was recently sitting in the school’s auditorium because of STAAR testing when someone remarked that it was funny people were actually doing their homework.

“I was like, ‘No, I can’t sleep unless I do it,’” he said.

Beanland agreed.

“Sleep is the last thing that comes,” she said.

Anna Lassmann said she does what she has to do when it comes to finding the time to get work done.

“If I have to stay up until 1 a.m. to get stuff done, that’s just what’s going to happen,” she said.

Coffee helps on those early mornings after getting less than the suggested eight hours of sleep.

“I drink coffee every day,” Beanland said.

When it comes to balancing school, family and extra curricular activities, the panel all agreed they weren’t exactly sure how they were able to do it all.

“I try to take it day by day,” Martinez said.

Beanland got a planner for the first time this year because she knew there would be a lot to do and keep track of.

“I know that sounds very basic, but I actually used it first semester,” she said. “It did help to see everything I had to do.”

Brooke Beanland
"I've never turned in subpar work. Knowing that I've got these things to do, it keeps me on that track of getting things done."

Brooke Beanland, Texas City High School senior
Brooke Beanland

Lessons learned

When it comes to “the birds and the bees” or other rules of life, conversations between teens and their parents are not like in the movies or on TV, the students on the panel agreed.

“I guess people have this idea that you sit down with your parents, and they’re like, ‘OK, this is how it happens.’ But it’s just gradual conversations that happen over time,” Beanland said.

News reports have helped Beanland’s family broach tough topics.

“If we see something on the news, like if a girl was raped at a party, then a conversation will naturally come up,” she said. “Like, these are things you can avoid if you don’t put yourself in these situations.”

Her parents’ most important lesson was that all actions have consequences, she said.

“It was never like, ‘You need to work hard. Just do it,’” Beanland said. “It was like, ‘If you don’t, if you choose you want to do other things, if you want to make those decisions, you’ll have to live with it.’ Even when we were little kids, ‘If you want to not listen to me, then you’re going to get in trouble.’”

Anna and Aaron Lassmann said it helped that they had an older sister (by 16 years) and brother (by four years) to watch while they were growing up.

Martinez also watched others for an example of what to do and what not to do.

“My parents never really drilled it into me that I have to work hard,” he said. “I’ve always just seen the work my dad does and the work my mom has to do just to support a family. I know I want a lot of those things when I’m older, so I know I have to work hard.”

•••

Rupp said that parents should investigate if their teenagers show symptoms of stress. Support is the best way parents can help their teens, he said.

“Parents and teenagers shouldn’t be afraid to seek help from counselors,” Rupp said. “Sometimes it is simple to address, such as with teenagers that burn the candle at both ends. The parents just need to help the teen set priorities and sometimes tell them it is OK to just do less.”

But students who plan to attend college figure out a way to make it work. They know high school is just the tip of the iceberg — that stress will get worse in their lifetime before it gets better.

“I really don’t know how I do it,” Beanland said. “You just do it. You just find time and make it happen.”

Contact Features Editor Kaitlin Schmidt at 409-683-5236 or kaitlin.schmidt@galvnews.com.

Creative Services designer and former Features Editor for The Daily News.

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