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5 Strategies for Building Teens' Resilience During Times of Stress

Lie down, close your eyes and take a deep breath. What a whirlwind the past year has been - a global pandemic, ongoing issues of racial injustice, widespread political unrest. We, as a human species, have been challenged in many facets of our lives in recent months. The world of education is no exception, and students have been tested in ways never before wrestled with. Teenagers going through the early stages of puberty are at an even greater risk of experiencing adverse effects from stressful situations such as the current circumstances. As a parent, you may be wondering how best you can support your student during this time, and what can be done to position your children for success. 

Role of Executive Functioning

According to new research published by professors at the Universities of Stanford and California, the answer to this query may lie in executive functioning. Executive functioning is a term that refers to the mental skills used to navigate everyday life.

It is generally broken down into three facets:

  • inhibition control - the ability to exercise conscious control to not perform relatively automatic responses,
  • working memory - manipulating the information held in the short term memory, and
  • cognitive flexibility - defined as cognitively switching tasks, focuses or rule sets.

Although proficient executive functioning is important for a student’s learning on any occasion, these skills are even more imperative during periods of acute stress and uncertainty, such as the present. Regulating emotional responses and meeting situational demands has become much more challenging for many people, especially teenagers. It is likely that a large portion of students are feeling increased levels of worry, sadness, anxiety, restlessness, fatigue, loneliness and irritability amongst other things. 

COVID-19 Stress 

The particular stress felt due to COVID-19 has been studied. In an article published in the academic journal, Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, the aforementioned authors lay out their study examining how strong executive functioning within adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic can serve as a protective buffer against internalizing psychopathology – a term which refers to a condition characterized by negative emotions such as depression and anxiety. While some may naturally possess stronger executive functioning than others, everyone can work to improve in this area. By flexing your executive functioning muscles, you can build up resilience to the sources of stress in your life, whatever they may be. 

This year, Perkiomen’s Learning Center faculty, Michael Romasco and Michelle Squiteri, have prioritized managing external stress.  

“In the Learning Center, one of our core units of study this year is examining and analyzing current events through the lens of trauma, stress and anxiety,” shared Squiteri. “Learning how to recognize and manage these issues is often an essential piece to a student’s personal formula for academic success. Over the last year, recognizing and managing trauma, stress and anxiety has become important to arguably everyone on the planet.” 

Classroom in Learning Center at Perkiomen School

5 Strategies for Educational Success

Below are five strategies to bear in mind as you look to help your child achieve educational success during this tumultuous time. 

  1. Plan and prioritize: One of the best ways to mitigate circumstances that seem to be out of your control is to make an increased effort to control the things which you can. Encourage your student to use a daily planner or checklist as a way of visualizing tasks which need to be accomplished. You can get as specific as you want with these lists, dividing the day into morning and afternoon, or even breaking it down hour by hour. Establishing a consistent routine from day to day can also be helpful for students to stay steadily productive. 
  2. Give students a space for themselves: When your student is doing school work at home, whether that be during a period of remote learning or after the school day, try your best to ensure that they have a space for themselves. It is important that this space is tidy and uncluttered to help eliminate distractions and maximize concentration. This will help your student remain disciplined and focused on the task at hand. 
  3. Emphasize Physical Health: In order to achieve high executive functioning, a student’s physical health must also be prioritized. Ensuring your student is getting adequate sleep, proper nutrition and regular exercise can go a long way toward helping their mental health and academic performance. It’s no secret that how you feel physically impacts many other areas of your life, so encourage your child to make healthy choices for their body. 
  4. Talk about it!  The value of speaking with your child about the current situation cannot be understated. Ask them how they are feeling. Share your own emotions with them. Have a compassionate conversation. A lot has changed in your child’s world over the last year. Their normal routines have been disrupted and they have been forced to confront issues they may never have grappled with before. Talking to your teenager about how these unsettling occurrences have made them feel, while also revealing the ways in which you have struggled yourself, is an extremely important exercise. Make an effort to make your child feel understood while also providing them with some perspective on how things will improve in time. This kind of messaging can help your child adjust their expectations and feel less dejected in the short term.
  5. Rewards and recharge time:  School during a pandemic can cause fatigue. School during a pandemic, civil disorder and governmental breakdown? Well, that’s just downright exhausting. Every student needs time to unwind and recharge. For some children it can be useful to implement a reward system to encourage the completion of school related tasks. Perhaps completing the math homework unlocks an hour of video games, or finishing reading the textbook chapter allows for a show on Netflix. It doesn’t really matter what the rewards are, as long as they motivate your student. Plus, it is crucial for children to get breaks from school to avoid burnout. Students will be able to maintain their focus much better if they have the opportunity to refuel and get away from the sources of their stress for extended periods of time. 


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By Greg Welsh, Marketing & Communications Assistant

Greg Welsh is a 2020 graduate of Villanova University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. He has a background in journalism and is excited to be assisting Perkiomen School by working with the Office of Marketing & Communications. 


While some may naturally possess stronger executive functioning than others, everyone can work to improve in this area. By flexing your executive functioning muscles, you can build up resilience to the sources of stress in your life, whatever they may be.