Stress and Your Teen

S-T-R-E-S-S – Helping Your Teen Deal

by Stephanie Partridge

Our kids are stressed.  Study after study is confirming this, citing a wide range of stress related complications such as sleep problems, anxiety, depression and eating disorders.  Our kids are growing up in a world that is much more stressful than the one we knew as teens.  And it is having a significant impact on them.

My kids have expressed to me the various stressors that they have in their lives.  My daughter, who is 17, will be graduating in June.  She is looking at colleges right now.  While she seems to take everything in stride, she has, from time to time, talked to me about the stress she is under.  School, grades and finding a good college are all areas that cause her worry.  Her teachers adore her and her grades are exceptional, she is even in college prep courses that she loves, but she admits to feeling stressed out sometimes.

My 15 year old son, on the other hand, tends to show his stress more.  He has a learning disability which makes an already stressful classroom situation even more difficult.  He does well in school and is very popular, but he worries about everything.  He won’t broach the subject, but we all spend time in the evenings talking as a family and many times those worries rise to the surface.  He worries about me, about my health, about the fact that I am “alone” (despite my telling him that I am very happy being single), about our finances (I have a good job, but what little child support I get is sporadic at best) and so many other things.  He worries about school, his sister, his friends.  Sometimes even I am overwhelmed.

The holidays can be a stressful time for many people – and teens are no exception.

But the only way I learn about these worries and the stress that my children are under is to listen.  I open the floor, give them a safe place to talk and then I shut up and listen.  I learn so much about them.

Sometimes as parents the best thing we can do for our kids is to just listen.

Lori Lite, creator of Stress Free Kids (stressfreekids.com) recognized the devastating effects of stress in kids, prompting her to develop techniques to relieve stress in kids, namely her own three.  Now, her books, curriculum's and CDs are used by parents, teachers, therapists and others who work with children.  Her audio book and CD series, Indigo Dreams, has been presented with the CNE Award of Excellence.

In “Tips for Taming Teenage Stress,” Lite recognized the importance of parental involvement when it comes to teens and stress:

“This teenage stress has never been more prevalent. Teenagers are living ever-more complex lives in a society that increasingly treats them as younger adults.  It is as important as it’s ever been, then, for parents to recognize the causes of teen stress and to take measures to relieve or combat it.”

Some of the things that teens worry about and that cause them stress, Lite says, include:

  • Grades
  • Tests
  • Homework
  • Peer Pressure
  • Sports Achievements
  • Peers
  • Military
  • College
  • Work Load
  • Extra Curricular Activities
  • Relationships
  • Divorcing or Single Parents
  • Fallout from the Current Recession such as fear of their parents losing their jobs, losing their home, not having the money to meet even basic needs
  • Time Management

According to Lite, even seemingly simple things like opening lockers and getting lost on campus causes teens to worry and get stressed out.

She offers these seven tips for parents who want to help their own teens deal with the stress in their lives:

Create an Air of Calm
Remember that stress is contagious, but so is calm. Demonstrate relaxation and positive statements in your parenting routine.

Talk
Talk to your teen. Figure out when their guard is most likely to be down.

Meet Them on Their Terms
Stay up and have a late night snack with your teen. Teens may more talkative at night and in the kitchen .

Share Your own Experiences
Tell stories about challenges you have had as a teen and how you handled it. Make sure to share the mistakes you made. Teens are more likely to share their challenges after a story than a direct question.

Set Boundaries
Give your teens more freedom, but keep clear boundaries. A teen without rules is a teen with much stress.

Spend Time With Your Teen
Schedule downtime with your teen. Go pumpkin picking, horseback riding. Take them out of their usual environment. You’ll be surprised how your teen will let their walls down doing something outdoors.

Listen and Respond
Pay attention to what you say to your teen. Take a break from criticizing and correcting. Make a choice to give a compliment everyday.

Lite also stresses the importance of parents recognizing legitimate stress for what it is.  Too often, she says, parents mistake real stress in a teen for the “typical” teen emotional volatility.  They brush it off, saying they are “just being a teen” when, in fact their child is suffering under the burden of real stress.  Some indicators of stress, says Lite, include:

  • Easily Agitated
  • Overactive
  • Confused
  • Afraid
  • Angry
  • Sad
  • Anxious
  • Withdrawn
  • Preoccupation with a Traumatic Event
  • Withdrawal from Family and Friends
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Other Physical Complaints

My own kids tend to have issues with their appetite and it is often combined with stomach upset.  When one of my children is complaining of an upset stomach, indigestion, acid reflux or stomach ache, I begin looking into what is going on in their lives as well as any physical illness that they may have.  More often than not, these issues can be tied back to stress.

And stress in a teen can be just as damaging, if not more so, as in an adult.

Lite also supports teenagers taking control of their stress and learning how to manage their own stress levels.  Parents, she says, should encourage the behavior and guide their teens.  She suggests that they make a homework plan and schedule some downtime as opposed to over-scheduling.  Eating healthy and exercising regularly are also great stress busters for teens and adults alike.  Teens should also get plenty of sleep – something that doesn’t usually happen with the “typical” teen.  But lack of sleep can really hurt a teen and an increase in their stress level is just one effect.

This is a time in a teen’s life when parental support is not only important, but crucial to their teen’s development.  Parents should support and encourage their children, helping them to relieve their stress whenever possible and however necessary.

Biography
Stephanie Partridge: I am a mom, not just to my three terrific teenagers, but to the entire neighborhood! On any given weekend we may have as many as 9 or more kids (not including my three) staying over at our house – and they all call me Mom. LOL
I am also blessed with a wonderful husband who married us all and moved into the dad role with an ease that is awe inspiring. We live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with our three pit bulls, Chihuahua (who rules the house) and two cats. I am currently pursuing a psychology degree so that I can counsel young people and incorporate therapy dogs into my practice.

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