Teens and Stress

How parents can help their stressed-out teen

When we talk about stress, most people think about how we react to problems that are difficult to deal with. Sometimes these problems are major life events that are unexpected or unusual. The family may be having financial difficulties. Parents may be going through a divorce. Teens may be breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Perhaps the teen has been hurt in an accident. Other problems are more common day-to-day difficulties.

The two most important things to know about teenagers dealing with stress

  • Teen stressA “pile-up” of many stressful life events in a small amount of time is more difficult for adolescents than dealing with just one event.
  • If a major event causes stress, it is often because it sets off a chain of events that intensifies the on-going, day-to-day stressful conditions of their lives.

Common sources of day-to-day stress for teens

  • problems with peers (e.g., being bullied, break-up with boyfriend or girlfriend, dating relationship problems)
  • family issues or problems with parents
  • school-related problems or pressures
  • their own thoughts, feelings, or behaviors (feeling depressed or lonely, getting into trouble because of their behavior)

Other sources of stress for teens

  • chronic illness or severe problems in the family
  • death of a loved one
  • moving to a new community
  • changing schools
  • taking on too many activities or having too high expectations
  • family financial problems
  • unsafe living environment/neighborhood

Some teens become overloaded with stress. If steps aren’t taken to relieve or manage the stress and support is not given, stress can lead to anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, or poor coping skills, such as drug use, alcohol use, eating disorders.

How parents can help their teen

Encourage your teen to talk about what he or she is going through and be willing to listen.  Don’t just jump to conclusions and give advice. Depending on the situation, your teen may not want advice ― just to be understood. Even if a problem seems small to you, it may be a major concern for your child. Minimizing a problem or say “you’ll get over it” is not helpful. It gives the message you don’t understand and are not willing to listen.

Offer reassurance, encouragement, and support.  Be willing to provide verbal or physical comfort, but don’t be discouraged if your teen rejects your effort or is irritable. These are normal reactions to stress. Be patient and let your child know you’re available if he or she needs you.

Continue to provide structure, stability, and predictability.  Within reason, stick to the same family rules, boundaries, roles, and routines.

Encourage your teen to participate in activities normally enjoyed, but make sure your teen is not overextended. Support your teen’s involvement in the positive activities that he or she enjoys. Whether it be sports, music, volunteer work, or church/religious activities, your teen must be the one to decide ― not you!

Model effective stress management and problem-solving skills.  Teens need to see you taking care of your health and coping with life and its challenges in a positive manner.

The most important thing you can do is to build a close relationship so that your teen will feel comfortable coming to you when he or she needs help.