Inside this post: Teens are reporting they are more stressed than ever bofore, and at times, even more stressed than adults. Here are seven strategies to help your teen manage stress.
As parents, we often discount the stress our teens face. As the ones with full-time jobs, mortgages, and the responsibilities of taking care of our families, it can be difficult to remember what it was like to be in high school.
However, The American Psychological Association reports that teenagers are more stressed than ever before, with 81 percent of Gen Z teens (ages 13–17) experiencing more intense stress during the pandemic. In fact, during the school year, teens are reporting that they are more stressed than adults.
While feeling some stress is normal and can even be beneficial, teens today may be over the tipping point. A Stress in America study shows that young adults and teens experience increased stress, anxiety, and depression when faced with unprecedented uncertainty like that of the global pandemic or recent political unrest. Additionally, 82% of respondents note that they receive insufficient emotional support.
But what exactly provokes stress in so many teenagers? And more importantly, how can you help your teen manage stress better?
Leading Causes of Teenage Stress
Parents need to normalize the concept of stress and help teenagers overcome life’s difficulties. The best way to deal with stress in teenage life is to study its nature and source.
Stress is our mental or emotional reaction to external challenges, events, or pressures.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), several external and internal stressors are unique to adolescents. These include:
School is the most common example of stressors for a teenager. with about 83% of teens surveyed mentioning it as their top source of stress. College admissions, constant testing, rigorous course schedules full of advanced classes, and hours of homework contribute to their feeling of overwhelm. Add this to the extracurricular activities teens participate in to round out their resumes, and many teens feel that they cannot keep up with the academic demands and meet their parents’ expectations.
A home is a place where children seek protection and support; however, when problems arise in the family, kids experience stress. This may include divorce, financial problems, illness, domestic abuse, family transitions, and unrealistic expectations.
Many adolescents find the social stress of high school extremely challenging, and social media does not make it any easier. Managing issues like peer pressure, friendships, romantic relationships, and conflicts such as bullying or harassment, are all common sources of stress for today’s teens.
Because of smartphones and social media, today’s teens are more in tune with what is going on in the world today than previous generations. Climate change, terrorism, school shootings, political unrest, and many other issues cause our teens to worry about the fate of the world and the ones they love.
Some teens must deal with a significant traumatic event that puts undue stress on their shoulders. This may include a death of a family member or friend, experiencing a crime or abuse, facing an illness, etc. These situations often have a lasting impact on an adolescent’s health and well-being.
Significant Life Changes
Life is not static, and we are often forced to manage forced change. Teenagers may have stress due to starting a new school, moving, changes in family composition, etc. Not knowing how to deal with significant changes can be confusing and overwhelming for teenagers.
Signs of Teen Stress
Stress can manifest in both behavioral and physical symptoms, and in some cases, have long-term consequences such as impacting your blood pressure, lowering your immune system, and putting strain on your nervous system.
Some examples of stress responses to look out for in your teenager include:
- Sudden difficulty managing emotions, including anger, crying, and chronic irritability
- Inability to control negative thoughts or feelings of hopelessness
- Loss of interest in activities or things they once enjoyed
- Inability to focus or forgetfulness
- Decreased motivation
- Increased heart rate
- Constant headaches
If you notice any significant health changes, such as sudden weight change, lethargy, or major behavior changes, or you are worried about your child’s mental health, you should contact your family health practitioner immediately.
Seven Tips on How to Help Your Teen Manage Stress
Teenage stress can have temporary or long-term effects on health. Below are seven practical tips to help your adolescent overcome stressors.
- Let your teens make mistakes.
As parents, it is often difficult to watch our teens hurt in any way, so our natural instinct is to swoop in and save our teens from any hardship. Because of this overparenting, our kids are starting to fear failure, and they stress any time they think about it.
In order to build resilience among our kids, we have to let them fail so they know that they can get through it. Parents should not overly criticize their teenager’s shortcomings (no matter how many times we want to say I told you so), but instead, teach them how to accept and overcome their mistakes. The more we let our teens take risks and fail, the more confident (and less stressed) they will be out in the real world.
- Stop overscheduling.
Extra-curricular activities, sports, academics, tutoring, part-time jobs, and other social activities are overwhelming our teenagers. We need to teach our teens how to prioritize their self-care and schedule some downtime in their calendars.
It also means taking a holistic look at your child’s schedule and making choices that will reduce some stress. For example, does your student need to take all AP classes, or should they just take advanced classes in the subjects that they enjoy? Do they have to play a travel sport or can they do intramurals? Can they find a job with flexible hours?
- Set limits on social media.
Teenagers often cite social media as a leading stressor because they can face peer pressure, questionable content, ongoing discord and negativity, comparison traps, and cyberbullying. That being said, the average tween/teen spends more than 1.5 hours every day on a social media app. Changing your teen’s social media habits can help them better manage stress.
While eliminating social media altogether is not an option for many parents, there are some small tricks that can make a huge difference. This can include turning off notifications, having ongoing discussions about social media interactions, and keeping phones out of the bedrooms at night (we recommend 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.)
- Make Sleep a Priority
Sleep has a profound impact on our ability to manage stress, Data from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 73% of high school students are getting less than the recommended eight hours of sleep each night (most are getting just over 6 hours.).
According to drugree.org, “lack of sleep increases levels of adrenaline and cortisol, making teens feel wired, edgy and stressed. That physical stress combines with the psychological stress of homework, social stress, overscheduled extracurricular activities, pressure to perform, and looming responsibilities of adulthood can feel overwhelming. And stress hormones make it harder to fall asleep, creating a cycle of sleep debt that is hard to break out of.”
Encourage your teen to maintain healthy sleep habits. This includes:
- Keeping cell phones out of bedrooms
- Maintaining a regular bedtime
- Limiting caffeine and energy drinks
- Don’t excessively oversleep in on the weekends
- Removing/limiting light emitting sources
- Consider utilizing white noise or mindfulness apps to relax
- Make time for fun
Big kids, like adults, need time to escape from worries and responsibilities, so encourage some fun screen-free activities for your teens. Help them find a hobby they love, exercise, experience nature, plan a trip or learn something new. Better yet, do these things together so your teen can see you prioritizing downtime and minimizing stress in your own life as well.
- Teach teens to understand their changing bodies.
Teenagers experience a tremendous amount of changes during puberty, both physically and mentally. Both teen boys and girls can become extremely self-conscious and stressed about their changing bodies, how they are developing relative to their peers, and unwanted issues such as braces or acne. Parents should continue to talk about these things and support your adolescent’s self-esteem through this challenging process.
Additionally, teenagers need to understand that their brain is changing rapidly during this time as well. Scientists have identified a specific region of the brain called the amygdala that is responsible for immediate reactions including fear and aggressive behavior. This region develops early in the teen years. However, the frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, develops later. This part of the brain is still changing and maturing well into adulthood. This profoundly impacts the way your teenager can manage their stress.
- Be a good role model for your teen.
Parents are still the number one influence on teenagers, so it’s critical that we role model healthy coping mechanisms for stress within our homes. If you are struggling with stress and not sure where to start, consider taking a five-minute walk around the block, slow counting up to 10, or take five deep breaths. Other activities you can do together to help your teen manage stress include:
- adult coloring books
- mindfulness activities
- practicing yoga
- repeating mantras
- playing a board game
- listening to music
- experiencing nature
Stress exhausts us from the inside, and we need to fight it to avoid negative and long-term consequences. If the above tips have not helped your teen cope with stress, it would be helpful for you to contact a psychologist or mental health therapist for advice.
by: Natalie Maximets
Natalie Maximets is a certified life transformation & relationship coach and a freelance writer at OnlineDivorce.com with expertise in mindfulness, sustainability, and building healthy relationships. She is a published author focused on the most progressive solutions in the field of Psychology. Natalie is proficient in CBT, REBT, Trauma Recovery, Mindfulness Meditation, Storytelling, and Wilderness Therapy.