Helping Your Teen Cope with Stress

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. 



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Emerging Adults – Supporting the Transition into Adulthood

There’s a newish term for the period between ages 18-29: emerging adulthood. During these years, emerging adults travel a path during which they want to pull away from the struggles of their teenage years and feel more responsible for themselves, but are also still closely tied to their parents and family.   According to the American Psychological Association, emerging adulthood is defined as an:

  • Age of identity exploration.Young people are deciding who they are and what they want out of work, school and love.
  • Age of instability.The post-high school years are marked by repeated residence changes, as young people either go to college or live with friends or a romantic partner.
  • Age of self-focus.Free of the parent- and society-directed routine of school, young people try to decide what they want to do, where they want to go and who they want to be with – before those choices get limited by the constraints of marriage, children and a career.
  • Age of feeling in between.Many emerging adults say they are taking responsibility for themselves but still do not completely feel like an adult.
  • Age of possibilities.Hopefulness is unlimited. Most emerging adults believe they have good chances of living “better than their parents did,” and even if their parents divorced, they believe they’ll find a lifelong soul mate.

Many emerging adults have more choices than ever before. They may find themselves continually searching for the absolute “perfect fit” when it comes to career, marriage, or parenthood. Parents, though, may feel frustrated or impatient with the slow progress of their emerging adult’s development. Peers may want to help but might not know how, as they are trying to figure out their own path. This leads us to the important question:

How can parents and peers best support emerging adults?

  •  Try not to offer advice about higher education, career directions or love interests. Let your emerging adult come to you when he or she is ready for advice. Allowing time and space for young adults to sort out their choices will be best for everyone involved.
  • Be curious about your emerging adult, but avoid interfering. When they share details about their upcoming choices and plans, help them to discover their wants and needs, not yours. It helps to ask open-ended questions (which can’t be answered with “Yes” or “No”). The goal is to open up space for them to explore their ideas and become more confident in their decisions.
  • Support them in finding organizational systems that work for them. This age brings bills, budgeting, increased responsibilities, a busier social calendar and additional belongings to keep straight. Good organizational systems will help your emerging adult feel more in control and capable of meeting the demands of this new life.  Remember, what works for you may not work for them.
  • Help them learn how to talk to those in authority. Navigating the world as an adult can be difficult and anxiety-causing for emerging adults if they don’t know how speak to adults as peers/colleagues or respectfully advocate for themselves. Brainstorm and role play situations when this skill might be necessary.
  • Don’t rescue your emerging adult. Watching your emerging adult make mistakes is tough. He or she will make decisions you don’t agree with, but they legally have the right to do so and must be allowed to have the responsibility of accepting the consequences of their actions. Experience is often the best teacher.
  • Don’t belittle them when they make mistakes. No one responds well to criticism. Look for what your emerging adult loves, what they do well and what they aspire to do, and focus on that. Remind them that you believe in them and that they have the ability to accomplish their goals.

It is important to trust your emerging adult to create their own life.  After all your hard work of building a solid foundation for them, it’s time to sit back and watch them fly.  It won’t be easy, but it’s worth it. It’s not giving up, it’s giving them control.

Parents, be there for your emerging adults.  They still need you!

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