The Graying of (Teen) America

Straight Talk for Teens Addresses Overstressed Youth

Dear Straight Talk: I am writing about gray hair in teenagers. My 16-year-old nephew, who has an intense schedule, is noticeably gray. I thought this was a fluke, but he tells me he knows a dozen other kids the same way. In my high school days, gray hair was unheard of. Is this from stress? I have small children and would like to know the biggest stressors teens are facing. – Carol, Sebastopol, CA

Megan, 20, Boston, MA: I’ve had gray hair since freshman year in high school. Now, in college, my stress has skyrocketed and I have lots more. It’s definitely common. At least 30 percent of the people I know have had a gray hair or two before they reach 21.

Lauren Forcella

Hannah, 17, Auburn, CA: I know two guys with some gray, but all the girls dye their hair, so who knows? Biggest stress today is succeeding in school. You not only need the perfect GPA, but to get in a good college you also need sports, clubs, music, advanced-placement classes, etc. There’s no breathing space. State schools are not good enough. Good is not good enough – yet, it’s hard to be great. The push comes from parents, teachers, and mainly, ourselves.

Savannah, 15, Folsom, CA: I know five kids with gray in their hair. The biggest stress today is schoolwork, family drama, friendship drama. It’s totally go, go, go, no breaks.

Shelby, 17, Auburn, CA: Most stress today is not from sex or drugs, it’s from our GPAs. Academic standards are 10 times higher than in our parents’ time. The SAT hardly mattered then, but today it’s huge. Colleges are so competitive. Thankfully, my parents don’t pressure me. They were fine with my C in math. Yet, I think parents are the number one driving force, even if they aren’t pressuring you. Every kid wants to please his/her parents.

Rose, 14, Fair Oaks CA: I know three kids with gray. Distractions from electronics cause kids to put off homework, then, suddenly, there’s too much to do.

Geoff, 23, Redding CA: I had a couple of gray hairs at 18, and more since college. The biggest stressor is the stress family puts on kids to be high-achieving and get into a good college.

Anne, 15, Fair Oaks CA: Five or six kids in my freshman class have gray in their hair. Yet, I don’t, and I play soccer, volleyball, basketball, and swim team, and am up late every night with lots of stressful homework.

Lennon, 22, Fair Oaks: A junior in my high school had tons of gray but he wasn’t an overachiever. The main stress today is that parents want their kids to be good at everything. Parents say they had to work when they were kids, but work isn’t competitive. Lots of kids work today, too, but did you also play year-round sports, take piano lessons, do student council, participate in mock trials, and do community service? No, at most you had a job and played sports one season a year – or were in band. Almost nobody did everything like today. Plus academics weren’t nearly as tough. Kids get up at 6 a.m., get home at 9 p.m., and do homework until midnight. Their whole day is competitive.

Dear Carol: Scientists and doctors suspect premature graying is from stress, but the science is “gray” with “multi-variables” (genetics included), according to a 2007 Scientific American article. Nevertheless, your question highlighted today’s biggest stressors and even I was surprised at the absolute consistency in the need to be high-achieving and get into a top college. Could this “good is not good enough” belief system be why so many kids give up (our largest cities have a 50 percent dropout rate), while 30 percent of our graduates start graying before they can buy a beer?

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