To answer these questions we conducted a research project in the CEESA region (International Schools of Central and Eastern Europe). In order to collect data that would help answer the questions above, we chose to conduct a series of focus groups with adolescents attending international schools in four cities in Eastern Europe. In depth interviews with students, guidance counselors, and administrators, workshop sessions with parents and teachers provided additional information and insight into academic life in international schools. This information assisted us in drawing conclusions from student data.
Research Sites - We sought to select schools that offered diversity in size, academic offerings, geographic features, and cultural and political aspects. Time, funds, and schools' availability influenced our selection. The findings reported are from site visits to the American International School of Bucharest, American International School of Vienna, International School of Helsinki, and American School of Estonia.
Student Sample- Two hundred seventeen students ages 11-18 participated in the Group Focus sessions. A vast majority of the students were maintaining at least a B average and planned on attending university studies.
Method - Focus group sessions lasting between 40 - 90 minutes were held with 10-25 students per group. The focus group sessions consisted of three phases. Phase One required the students to complete a questionnaire regarding goals, grades, how they spend time, to what degree they experienced stress in their lives, what caused the stress, how they felt when stressed, and how they handled stress. Phase Two was characterized by the group sharing and then multi-voting which items seemed to cause the most stress. Phase Three provided an opportunity for us to explore particular issues with the students and to then offer some initial advice about managing stress. The sessions closed with the students' sending a message to parents and/or teachers describing one way these adults could help the students alleviate or better manage the stress these students were experiencing. Stressors of Adolescents Attending International Schools
General Issue Specific examples
School Tests, homework, projects, public speaking, teachers
Relationships Communications, peer pressure, being a good friend
Family Issues Family quarrelling, lack of trust, siblings, health issues &
Expectations Self, parents, teachers, peers
Time Never enough time to sleep, work and play
Transitions Moving, leaving friends, adjusting to new friends, schools,
cultures and countries
The children surveyed reported that the stress that they felt manifested itself in physical symptoms. In fact, nearly 25% of the students interviewed reported some negative physical or physiological manifestations of stress. Included in these self reported symptoms were, acting hyper or high strung, headaches, insomnia, feelings of lethargy or sleepiness, shortness of breath, depression and sadness, rage, aggression, annoyance, anger, and shortness of temper. The students also reported relational issues that they attributed to stress related causes like unnecessary fights with parents, siblings and friends. They went on to describe some of the mental effects of stress including difficulty thinking, inability to focus or concentrate and lack of motivation. Finally students reported the negative spiritual effects of stress including lack of motivation and interest, burn out, or depression.
As we interviewed the students we discovered that they did indeed have stress management strategies. Some were productive; some, less so; and some downright dangerous. Students reported limiting sleeping and eating to find time to manage their lives, or escaping by sleeping or listening to music, acting out aggressively by punching a pillow or a friend. Some students said that they often spoke with a friend or family member who was non judgmental or who was accepting rather than critical. Many students felt they had no adult in their lives with whom they could share their concerns and feelings. No adult to trust. Students often reported hiding stress in their lives from others so no one would judge them. They acknowledged withholding feelings from the adults in their lives.
In related interviews with parents, teachers, administrators, and counselors we discovered the following:
Parents, faculty and counselors are often not good predictors of children or students' stress levels or of the things that stress them. Parents, teachers, and counselors are often most concerned with grades and college entrance. Due to limited time available, counselors tend to focus on college admission and career planning rather than addressing social and emotional needs of these students especially if there are no other glaring academic or emotional issues. When schools did address time management in a seminar setting or retreat, the practice was not always reinforced by all classroom teachers. Because the strategies were not woven into the fabric of the school day, the skills learned did not transfer to classroom applications, or to the students, or to the teachers, or to their lives. The results of this research affirmed our fears that:
1. Students have significant unresolved issues related to stress.
2. Many schools do not have a curriculum for stress management of life skills.
3. Many schools have no mechanism in place where students receive instruction in emotional intelligence.
And most importantly these findings convinced us that we needed to write this book.