Providing Stability for Teens Under Stress
The school year is soon starting, and with it comes renewed pressure. Teenagers today are under a lot of stress. They feel pressure from parents, teachers, peers, and social media. They worry about their grades, their future, fitting in, body image, getting their homework done, extracurriculars, climate change, racial injustice, school shootings, cultural expectations, and so much more. And beyond even these stressors, our teens have recently experienced a massive disruption in their lives through the pandemic that has brought academic regression, economic instability, depression, and social anxiety.
The Surgeon General put out an advisory in 2021 stating that mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. While there’s no instruction manual to help teens cope with the multiple layers of stress they confront each day during this complex time of growing up, there are steps caregivers can take to provide comfort and stability during these stressful times.
Engage in regular check-ins. Teens have really busy schedules, and they also like downtime and privacy, but don’t let that discourage you from connecting with them. It’s important to make frequent contact with your teens, even if that’s only 15 minutes each night before bed or a regularly scheduled lunch out on Sundays. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions about moods and behaviors. “You seem really tired lately, are you feeling stressed or having trouble sleeping?” communicates care and concern in a calm tone.
Role model self-care. Taking care of yourself, monitoring your own stress levels and living a balanced life impacts how your teen manages their life. If your teen watches you take a drink of alcohol or have a tantrum every time you are overwhelmed, they are more likely to imitate that behavior. You want to demonstrate positive coping skills in the face of stress, such as taking a walk or listening to music or some other relaxing activity.
Create a safe space for feelings. Teens talk when they trust their grown-ups to listen without judgment or immediate solutions. You must adopt a practice of active listening. That means that when they approach you with a question or concern, you stop what you’re doing (you will miss your window of opportunity if you try to delay them) and seek to understand what they are telling you and how it’s making them feel without interruption or criticism. You do not need to agree with them to try to understand their viewpoint.
Balance positive family connections. Whenever possible, stick to the rituals and traditions that your family enjoys. This will bring stability to your teens when other aspects of their life might feel out of control. Create space for family time on the weekends, and give your teen a voice in planning how the time is spent. A family hike might sound fun and energizing to you, but a tired kid might really need a pizza movie night.
Support your teen’s decisions. Allowing your teenager to make their own choices and then supporting those decisions or being understanding of them even if you don’t agree with them will most likely open the door for future conversations. This might also give you an opportunity to share your own opinions and advice. Stay involved but don’t interfere. If we constantly try to help our stressed teenagers avoid mistakes, they will miss out on valuable life lessons that will help them grow and acquire the tools needed to live in the world.
Laugh. Don’t forget to find humor in life, as this can be the best stress reliever of all. If you can model a good sense of humor in the face of stress, you will teach your teen a lot about finding the bright side of things, relieving stress through laughter, and resilience in the face of difficulties. However, key point here… do not laugh AT your teen. Do not make a joke at their expense. You should laugh at your own stressful situations to role model the behavior. Over time, your teen will likely crack a joke at their own situation, and at that point, you can laugh WITH your teen.