With the start of the school season, many teenagers are again feeling the increased effects of stress. And while adults have many resources to help with stress, teenagers have few. Their stress is high, but their ability to cope is low.
Many schools are recognizing this and taking steps to help their students. Some schools have yoga programs or use therapy dogs. Some teach Transcendental Meditation or Mindfulness Training. More and more schools understand that teaching stress management is an important part of preparing teenagers for life.
If you have access to classes that help with stress, consider offering them to your teen. But even without classes, there’s a lot you can do to help your stressed teen.
Watch for signs of stress. Fatigue, headache, feeling sick, mood swings, changes in sleep or eating patterns, a drop in grades or difficulties in relationships can all be signs of stress. Address stress before it is a serious problem.
Be available. Even if you are busy, make time to spend with your teen—especially the times your teen is most likely to open up (bedtime, driving, etc.)
Soften your reactions. Teenagers are very sensitive. Express your opinions without judgment or argument.
Listen and translate. Sometimes teenagers can’t accurately describe how they are feeling. Sometimes “no one likes me” or “I’m stupid” means “I’m stressed and worried.” Help them identify feelings of stress so they know how to care for themselves.
Listen and illuminate. Sometimes teenagers lump feelings into a big pot and draw grandiose conclusions. “My teacher hates me” can mean that the teacher was just grouchy. Help your teenager separate real events from imaginary ones, real conflicts from misunderstandings.
Stop rushing. Remember that you may be hearing only part of the story. It may take time for a teen to relax enough to speak openly. Be available for long conversations.
Facilitate support from friends. Encourage your teenager to spend time with supportive friends and family.
Teach self-care. Encourage your teen to exercise and eat well. As challenging as it may be, talk about the benefits of a full night’s sleep. Point out that it feels good to feel good.
Teach time management. Teens are not likely to ask for help managing their busy schedules, but sometimes they need it. Encourage them to think of ways to complete their work without stress.
Ask your teen what they need. Do they need advice or just someone to listen? Do they need strategies or loving support or active intervention? Allow your teen to identify what would be helpful.
Stop being helpful. Sometimes extra advice, strategies or tips just give the teen more things to worry about. Remind the teen that they are doing great.
Allow alone time. Sometimes being alone, watching YouTube or playing computer games is a way for teens to unwind. Understand that they need to relax, even if you don’t enjoy the activity.