The S Word: Helping Your Teen Manage their Stress

teen stressIs your teen stressing out over homework, quizzes, friends and their wardrobe? I bet they are – a recent study from the American Psychological Association found that teen stress rivals that of adults, particularly during the school year.

In one alarming number, teens reported that their stress level during the school year exceeds what they believe to be healthy (5.8 versus 3.9 on a 10-point scale) and tops adults’ average reported stress levels (5.8 for teens versus 5.1 for adults).

But while you can’t take their tests or solve their social angst, there is plenty you as a parent can do to help control the stress. How can you spell relief?

See if there’s anything you can do to help them prioritize their schedule. Often teens feel stressed because they are overwhelmed. Either they truly do have too much on their plate, in which case some activity pruning might be necessary or they’re not good at time management. Sitting down with the calendar and their “to do” list can be really helpful to map out what they can and should do when. Breaking huge projects into smaller pieces can be a big relief.

Try to help them with perspective. Teens don’t realize that high school is one small part of their life. While we, as parents, are always urging them toward achievement, they might be hearing our encouragement as criticism. Yes, the algebra test is important and they should do their best. But if it doesn’t go well, they probably have a chance to redeem themselves later in the semester. Help them see that each individual stumbling block is not the end of the world.

Remember what it was like to be a teen. Despite your attempts to add perspective, when you are a teen, it does feel like everything is a huge deal – from forgetting their book to a perceived snub from a friend. While you’re putting things into perspective, be cautious not to minimize what they’re going through either or they are likely to accuse you of being out of touch and shut you out.

Explore ways they can manage their stress, from sufficient sleep to exercise. Whether they feel better after a heart-pumping running or soothing yoga, an exercise plan, coupled with 8 or more hours of sleep, can do wonders!

Stop using the word yourself. When you ask an acquaintance how they are, do you find that they respond almost reflexively, “Busy!” or “Stressed!” Sometimes our teens are emulating what they hear from us, and thinking that a full schedule has to equal stress. It doesn’t! Help them see that you can capably plan your days to include the important must-dos of your life – from work to volunteer activities to making sure the home runs smoothly – without resorting to undue stress ourselves.

Seek help if necessary. If they are having trouble with a challenging class, try working with a tutor to help alleviate the worry and boost their grade. If their stress is coming from friends or social situations, suggest they talk with a friend, an older family member, a counselor or a clergy member. Talking through rough situations and seeking advice from someone else can really help teens manage a situation that seems overwhelming or discouraging.

Stress can be a good thing. In fact, stress can feel motivating and challenging as long as it’s managed correctly. Giving a positive spin to stress might help your child see that it’s a fact of life— something to conquer and move on!



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