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David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Many teens keep problems to themselves
Tue. Sep. 12 2006

TORONTO (Canadian Press) -- When the going gets tough, many teens don't get going to friends or parents; they keep their problems to themselves, a new survey suggests.

In fact, the study found that 42 per cent of the teens surveyed rarely or never ask for help when they feel overwhelmed.

"The fact that so many of them are rarely or never asking for help ... they don't cope as well, they are less likely to go to their parents and more likely to tell us their parents are a source of stress,'' said Patricia McDougall, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Saskatchewan and one of the lead researchers.

"I want to contribute to a generation of young people who will seek the help they need.''

The Raise Your Voice National Youth Study, released Tuesday, was funded by Motorola and was based on data from a national online survey of 1,007 youths between the ages of 13 and 18. A separate online survey of 496 parents of youth between the ages of 13 and 18 was also conducted during the spring of 2006.

The teen survey is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.07 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

While many of the teens said they never seek help to deal with the stress in their lives, 19 per cent said they routinely ask for help.

Sixty-nine per cent of those surveyed said their top stress was school. Money was a cause of stress for 24 per cent, and body appearance was cited by 24 per cent.

Teens who do reach out for help were most likely to turn to friends (67 per cent) or their mothers (60 per cent). Fathers and siblings (32 per cent for both) were less likely to be teen confidants.

Adrian Lee is a "pretty unstressed'' 17-year-old high school student in Toronto. But when he does come up against a problem, he said he doesn't confide in anyone. He acknowledges he has a support system of friends and a mother and father who are approachable, but it just doesn't occur to him to talk about his stress.

"The problem with parents ... it's not that I don't love them or anything, it's just I feel there is a generational gap of things they just don't understand,'' he said in an interview.

"It's not their fault ... it would be hard for them to understand.''

For Lee, there could also be a cultural gap. His parents -- immigrants from China and Hong Kong -- don't have a Canadian teenage experience.

Lee lives in Richmond Hill, Ont., and goes to school in Toronto. His one-and-a-half-hour commute to school means he is away from home from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and after that his life is taken up with homework.

He said his parents complain sometimes that they don't get to see him.

"It's probably one of my regrets that I don't talk to my parents.''

The study also found that one in five stressed teens report behaviours that provide a distraction. The behaviours ranged from watching TV and playing video games to going for a walk or playing sports.

Over half of the adolescents surveyed said they changed their eating habits when they were stressed; 50 per cent of the girls said they ate more than usual versus 33 per cent of boys. Fourteen per cent of teens reported that they ate less when stressed.

Sarah Donnelly, 18, just started studying at Humber College in Toronto and is a little concerned about being away from home for the first time.

She said she deals with stress in her own way. Going home every weekend to Orono, Ont., east of Oshawa, has enabled her to keep up with her high school pals and has kept her homesickness in check.

Still she knows from the past that she stops eating when she is stressed out about something.

"Right now I don't have my mother pushing me to eat all the time ... and sometimes I find I don't have the time to eat.''

When things start to get to her, she talks to her friends as "they are going through the same situations.''

Fred Mathews, a psychologist with the Toronto Central Youth Services, said the key to getting teens to confide in parents is to start a dialogue when the kids are very young.

"Communication has to be built on a history. Any child who has had an open dialogue, respectful communication all of their lives is a kid who is going to maintain that even into their adolescence and adulthood,'' he said.
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