January 18, 2019

Finding solutions to reducing teen stress

Every weekday at around 6:30 a.m., Henry Muhlheim hits the snooze button a few times before getting up and driving from Hancock Park to Harvard-Westlake School, one of the country’s top private high schools.

The 17-year-old junior then winds his way through a grueling schedule of seven classes: Middle East studies, AP U.S. history, AP physics, calculus honors, English honors, lunch, design & data structures honors and AP Chinese. Most days of the week, he attends swim practice for a few hours after school, then works on homework until midnight or so. On Sunday mornings, he’s an assistant teacher at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

One night a week, Muhlheim volunteers at Teen Line, a teen-crisis hotline run by Cedars-Sinai, where he offers help on “everything from, ‘my parents don’t understand, my girlfriend broke up with me,’ to things like, ‘I’m dealing with suicide and rape and child abuse,’ ” Muhlheim said. Often, though, teens talk about their stress related to college applications and social relationships.

“With classes and extracurriculars and stuff gearing up toward college, it’s getting crazy,” Muhlheim said.

For 16-year-old junior Ella Swimmer, life is equally complicated. Her day starts at 7:30 a.m. and often ends at 2 a.m. During that time, she takes classes at Santa Monica High School, goes to dance rehearsals, does her homework and helps her younger siblings with their homework. She’s also co-president of her synagogue youth group, Santa Monica Reform Temple Youth, and participates in other Jewish activities for teens.

“I’m constantly stressed out, constantly trying to, like, think hours and days in advance of how I’ll manage my time, how I’ll have time to eat and sleep in between all the homework and activities,” she said.

Adolescence has always been a challenging time of life. School, social obligations and hormones all make it especially hard to navigate. But some Jewish educators and clergy members have become worried that parents and teachers have reached a breaking point of piling on to kids’ lives.

“Most synagogues are ignoring that problem,” said Isa Aron, a professor of Jewish education at the Rhea Hirsch School of Education of