What Teens Worry About and How to Help
Adolescence is a time of rapid growth and change – physically, mentally, and socially. These changes create stress, and it’s normal for teenagers to worry.
Top Teenage Worries
There are many common issues that cause teens concern:
Schoolwork and grades. Believe it or not, most teens—even those who don’t get stellar marks—worry about grades. Good grades are a sign of intelligence and achievement, and teens know that grades will impact their future. In addition, grades can also determine the approval of teachers and parents, which teens desire even if they don’t act like it. Many teens also worry about their ability to complete schoolwork, either because they fear a lack of time or they don’t understand the material.
Belonging. Teens naturally want to fit in and be liked by their peers. They want to “pick” the right identity and be viewed by their peers in a positive light. This worry can motivate teens to do things they know are wrong or that make them uncomfortable, such as smoking or other risky behaviors, to impress a peer. Additionally, teens know that kids who don’t fit in are often targets for bullies, another major concern for this age group. Finding a sense of belonging is a major source of stress in the teen years.
Body image. Puberty creates so many changes in such a short amount of time, teens can feel overwhelmed by their own bodies. In addition, our culture promotes an almost impossible body type as ideal, which creates unrealistic comparisons and feelings of failure.
Overscheduling. The world today offers so many exciting options, our culture tends to want to do it all. In reality, we can only concentrate on a few things at a time, and all of us become stressed when we are pulled in too many different directions.
Family conflict. Most teens have perfected the art of acting indifferent to their families, but it is truly just an act. Teens care about their families, and if there’s trouble at home – whether it’s emotional or financial – your teen will be aware of it and find it very worrisome.
Love interests. Adolescence is your child’s first steps into the world of dating and that brings a whole new level of stress. When your teen is not in a relationship, they will worry about whether they are attractive to the opposite sex. Those that are in relationships tend to worry about how long the relationship will last and the pressure to have sex.
Future. Teenagers often have to make early decisions about school subjects, study, careers and work. In fact, many teenagers are stressed because they believe their high school grades decide their whole future. Many teens worry about getting into a good college and how they’ll handle being away from their families and homes for the first time.
How to Help your Teen Cope
As you can see from the list of teen worries, adolescence is a stressful time in life. But, that means it’s also the perfect time for you to teach your children positive coping mechanisms and problem solving skills, both of which are necessary for them to handle life as an adult. Part of growing up is learning how to take care of oneself. Teens who are not taught methods for coping with stress end up finding destructive ways to manage their lives, such as drinking and drug use, eating disorders, self-injury, teen violence, sex and other risky behaviors. It’s a parent’s role to guide teens to positive ways to manage their life.
Here are some ideas to help your teen cope with their worries:
Talking. Almost everyone feels better when they can talk out their worries. Create a safe and supportive home environment and practice active listening so that your teen feels comfortable sharing their concerns with you. Help your teen identify their feelings, and, regardless of what you think about their worry, be sure to validate your teen’s feelings. If your teen won’t talk to you, help identify safe people with whom they might feel comfortable discussing their problems or encourage your teen to journal.
Expressing confidence. Demonstrating that you believe in your teen can help them overcome their worries. Tell your teen that you have confidence in their ability to handle stressful situations, find possible solutions, and work to improve their problems. Praise your teen anytime you see them working to manage their emotions or try again after a failure.
Teach thought management. Explain to your teen how to monitor and control their negative thoughts. Thoughts like “I will never be able to…” or calling yourself names only deplete our confidence and do nothing to improve our life. Teach your teen that how they think is a choice, and they can replace negative thinking with positive thoughts. You want to help your child develop the habit of spending more time considering what has gone well. Optimists and positive thinkers experience better health and less stress in life. You can learn more about this in our previous blog, How Your Teen Can Silence Their Inner Critic.
Problem Solving. Another tool that teens need to be successful is the ability to find solutions for his or her own problems. Problem solving can be as simple as sitting down together and brainstorming a list of possible solutions to the given situation. Ask kids what they have tried before in similar situations, and what outcomes they experienced. Ask them to predict likely consequences, both positive and negative, for each possibility. Make a list of options together, and then let teens choose the one they’d like to try. Check back frequently to process how the solution is or isn’t working, and help modify as necessary. The goal here is for kids to learn to feel confident about solving their own problems.
Stress Relievers. Adults must help kids find ways to relax that fit their personality and interests. Below is a list of activities that you can encourage the teens in your life to try to see which work best for them:
- Exercise, such as bike riding, skating, or shooting hoops.
- Eat regular and nutritious meals.
- Avoid excess caffeine intake which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation.
- Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
- Get enough sleep.
- Take time to do enjoyable activities like listening to music, dancing, drawing, writing in a journal, reading a good book, taking a walk, or spending time with a pet.
- Learn relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing, muscle relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, etc.).
- Avoid overcommitment.
- Develop organizational skills.
When to Get your Teen Help
While it’s normal for teenagers to have worries, sometimes fears and stress can get worse and interfere with your teen’s daily life. Signs that your teen might be struggling with anxiety are:
- Worries that won’t go away – if your teen is feeling ‘on edge’ or ‘wound up’ most of the time, is generally worried about a lot of things for no clear reason, or can’t relax.
- Worries that get worse over time – if your teen avoids situations or people, feels panicky in some situations, has bad thoughts that are hard to control, or has physical symptoms like increased sweating, fast heartbeat, headaches, stomach cramps, nausea, or rapid breathing.
- Worries that interfere with daily life – if your teen stops being able to do things that he used to do or enjoy because of fear and anxiety.
Anxiety can be very difficult to deal with, and you should get your teen professional help.
Adolescence is a stressful time of life. Teen who don’t have ways to handle stress can easily turn to rage, violence, or other negative behaviors when upset and vulnerable. On the other hand, when we work to help teens develop a full toolkit of positive coping skills, we give them alternatives that can help them turn problem situations into positive outcomes and prepare them for a responsible adulthood.