In our technology driven society it is difficult for teens to feel like they have any downtime to decompress in an already stressful time in their lives. With stiff competition to get into college, friendships and relationships to balance, changes in their bodies, social media pressures, and home life issues, many teens are feeling an immense amount of pressure without realizing the impact it has on their physical and mental well-being.
WebMD recently conducted a study of 576 parents with teenagers aged 13-17 years old. In the past 12 months, 55% of the parents reported their child having a moderate to high level of stress. Parents of girls reported higher rates of stress than boys (58% vs. 45%) with the main contributors being college prep and poor body image. Parents of girls also reported 57% of girls turned to texting and social media to reduce stress compared to 38% of boys. Unfortunately, this appears to have an adverse effect on their daughters who reported experiencing more stress from their online social networks. Viewing everyone else’s “fabulous life” on social media can pose challenges for even the most secure teenager. This coupled with screen time taking away from friendships, exercise, and hanging out with family commonly leaves teens and parents in a struggle over technology and parents not sure how to help their stressed out teen. (1)
Impact of Teen Stress
Most teenagers experience an increase of stress when they perceive a situation as dangerous, too difficult, or painful and they do not have the tools or resources to cope. When this happens, stress can lead to creating feelings of anxiety, withdrawing from family and friends, aggression towards others, physical illness, or poor coping skills such as the over use of technology (video games, social media, and virtual reality), drugs and alcohol use, disordered eating, and/or self harming behaviors.
What Can Parents Do to Help Their Teen Cope with Stress?
First line of defense for parents is to listen carefully to your teen and pay attention to the physical, emotional, and mental signs that stress is affecting their health, behavior, thoughts, or feelings. Signs that your teen is overloaded with stress may include acting out, not talking, deregulated sleep and eating (too much or too little), stomach aches, feelings of anxiety or panic attacks, feeling pressured, hurried, hassled, sadness, or depression. Simply talking to your teen to ask them if they are feeling stressed would be the first step in supporting your teen followed by figuring out the root of the stress and together (or with other support) finding a solution. (2)
Teens can begin to decrease stress by exercising and eating regularly, getting 8-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep, building a network of friends who help cope in a positive way, and avoiding excess caffeine intake which can lead to feelings of anxiety and agitation. Remembering to take a break from stressful situations with activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, family member, or teacher, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress as well. (3)
Teen Stress Relief Strategies that Work
Teens can decrease stress by learning to meditate and focus on their breathing. It may seem overly simple and everyone is buzzing about mediation these days. However, neuroscientists have discovered that when you ask the brain to mediate, it gets better not just at meditating but also a wide range of self-control skills including impulse control, focus, as well as stress management. Free meditation mobile apps like Smile Mind and Stop, Breathe, and Think that teach teens how to meditate and Mindshift designed to help teens learn skills to reduce anxiety may be good resources for your teen to try. These apps may also be a good technology compromise between you and your teen to positively reduce stress rather than add to it. (3)
Creating Positive Emotions
As humans, we are hardwired to seek out and remember negative events and experiences that have happened during the day. Positive emotions and gratitude, in particular, can help counteract the negative bias that we build up during the day and reduce stress. Simple activities such as having your teen write down what he or she is grateful for on a daily gratitude list or sharing the good things that happened during their day over a family meal can greatly decrease depression and increase your teen's well-being. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, another way to promote positive emotions in teens is decreasing negative self-talk by having teens challenge their negative thoughts about themselves or others with alternative neutral or positive thoughts to reduce stress and build self esteem. (4)
Find a Practical Solution
Parents, friends, teachers, or family members can help teens rehearse and practice situations, which cause them stress. Some examples include taking a speech class if talking in front of a class makes your teen anxious, role-playing with your child comebacks to counter bullying or teasing, or joining a peer group for support. In addition, helping your teen learn practical coping skills by breaking a large task into smaller ones to make the task more attainable is also a positive tool to help your teen reduce their stress.
Is Laughter the Best Medicine?
Studies on humor show that it strengthens the immune system as well as reduces stress levels, feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety. Watching a funny movie with your teen, reading funny books or comics, or challenging them to tell you funny jokes every day or every week will not only help to reduce your teen’s stress but yours as well. (6)
Teenage years are a challenging time for both teens and parents and hopefully, using some of these stress management techniques, will help your teenager begin to learn to manage their stress more effectively. In addition, parents who model stress management can greatly impact their teen’s positive heath as well as provide their teens with life skills to cope with stress. However, if a teen talks about or shows signs of being overly stressed, a consultation with a child and adolescent physician or qualified mental health professional may also be an important step to supporting your teen. For more information about the WebMD survey please go to http://www.webmd.com/news/breaking-news/teen-stress/.
1. & 2. Hayes, A. (April 14, 2016). Teen Girls More Stressed than Boys: Survey. WedMD. http://www.webmd.com/news/breaking-news/teen-stress/20160414/teen-stress-survey?page=1
3. Dzung, X. (2015). The Mindful Teen: Powerful Skills to Help You Handle Stress One Moment at a Time. Instant Help.
4. McGonigal, K. (2012). The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. New York: The Penguin Group.
5. Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T.A., Park, N., Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology in Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.
6. McGee, P. (2010). Humor: The Lighter path to Resilience and Health. Bloomington, IN: Author-House.