As parents, we often minimize the importance of teen stress and simply attribute it to over-active hormones, the search for popularity and peer pressure. However, recent studies have shown that teenagers actually do have a lot on their minds, even if parents only perceive their stress as “melodrama”. The fact is, many teens are stressed, maybe as much so or more than their parents.
In a recent “Stress in America” survey by American Psychological Association's, released in February 2015, teenagers rated their stress during the school year on average at 5.8 on a 10-point scale, while adults averaged a 5.1. 3.9 on a scale of 10 is considered a healthy stress level. And whether you're 14 or 49, too much stress is not particularly fun or healthy for anyone.
To help your teens manage their stress, you first have to understand where they're coming from. This is a period in their lives where everything is changing, often in dramatic ways. Most teens are embarking on a period in their lives where they have to decide a lot of things for themselves – like who they should select as their closest friends, how to ask someone out on a date, or whether to try out for the basketball team. They are coping with peer pressure, social status, deadlines and tests. A lot of these kinds of decisions had previously been made by you, their parents – but now for the first time, they are making important life choices on their own.
As parents, our first inclination is to want to help. But it’s important to understand some of the keys to how parents can successfully help their teens manage stress. Here are a few tips:
- Have day to day, friendly, open conversations about nothing with your teens. Don’t act like you are prying, just converse with them about regular everyday topics.
- Check in with your teens on a daily basis, and if you can, share regularly planned activities with them like walking the dog, or cooking dinner. These moments set the stage for easy conversations.
- Notice when your teen is grouchy, slamming doors or complaining. Don’t just attribute it to hormones. They actually might be going through something important. They may need to talk.
- Instead of immediately finding fault with a negative attitude they might be displaying, recognize that these attitudes might be signs of stress. Be supportive and ask “How can I help?
- Listen more than you advise and try to draw out your teen’s opinions on difficult matters.
The best approach is to help your teens put their stressors into perspective. Focus on helping them think about how they can solve or move past the things that are stressing them. Of course, there are exceptions where if the teen is making a dangerous decision and the parent should step in and lay down the law. But in most cases, parents should be able to offer some counsel, but mostly support, as their teens talk through their stress. By learning how to make these decisions, they're learning the process of dealing with stress, managing multiple responsibilities, growing their independence, and still being able to ask for support and guidance when they need it. And these are things that we never outgrow.