Stress is a normal part of life for everyone. It’s the body’s way of responding to any kind of demand and can be healthy or unhealthy depending on how it is managed. Teens have their own sources of stress that adults may not always recognize or understand. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that school is a major source of stress for teenagers.1 Teens can also become stressed due to family problems and expectations, issues with friends, bullying, dating relationships, peer pressure and poor time management. Signs that your teen may be stressed include difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, increased irritability, isolating themselves, frequent illness, negative changes in behavior, difficulty concentrating and increased worrying.
According to the APA, teenagers experience extremely high levels of stress but are not able to judge how it affects them and don’t know how to cope with it in healthy ways.1 Because their brains are not fully developed, teens act without thinking about the consequences of their actions. When teens don’t know how to deal with stress, they are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol for an immediate escape from their problems. However, using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress does nothing to help with the actual problem, and may increase it.
Here are some ways you can help your teen manage their stress in healthy ways:
- Be available. Make one-on-one time a part of your weekly routine so he or she knows they can always come to you for help with a problem. 2 When they come to you for help, ask questions and listen to what they say. This will help you guide him or her in working through the problem.
- Encourage healthy escapes. Teach your teen that it’s okay to take healthy breaks from stressful situations. Physical activity of any kind is great for relieving stress. Listening to music, reading a non-school book, working on a hobby and playing with a pet are other suggestions.
- Laugh. Encourage them to watch funny videos and get together with their friends. Teach your teenager to laugh at him/herself when they make normal mistakes. 2
- Write it down. Buy your teenager a journal or diary and encourage them to write in it. Make sure they understand that you will not read it unless they ask you to. Journaling will allow them to express their feelings without fear of judgment or criticism from others. After the stressful situation has passed, they can look back over what they wrote and think about how they handled it. 2
- Build confidence. Sometimes it can be easy for parents to overlook the good things teens do. Make a point to notice something positive your teen does every day and tell him or her about it. When a teen has a strong self-esteem, they will be better able to handle stress. 2
- Teach perspective. Keeping things in perspective is an important part of dealing with stress. Teens need to learn how to look at a situation from different points of view and how it fits in the “big picture” of their life. 2
- Focus on the positive. Show your teen how to focus on the positive aspects of a situation. Even the worst situations can provide chances for growth and positive outcomes.2
- Seek professional help if necessary. If your teen’s stress is interfering with school, family, responsibilities or friends, it may be a sign that your teen needs additional help managing stress. If you have concerns, talk to your teen’s physician.1
- Model healthy stress management. You are your child’s most effective teacher.