Are the teens in your life stressed out? Here are 3 ways to help them manage it better
The protective response system in our brains that helps us know when something isn’t right.
That feeling of anxiousness in the face of both enjoyable and overwhelming circumstances that propels us to act.
The thing we all want to avoid and yet is entirely inescapable.
How are we supposed to help the teens in our lives deal with it? Read on...
It seems the world today is completely stressed out, and our teens are no exception.
Their stress can present itself in many ways:
Lack of motivation
Excessive or lack of eating
Excessive or lack of sleep
And how they deal with it can be harmful. Self-medicating to deal with stress and anxiety is a main go-to with teens who seek quick relief through alcohol or drug use. As is trying to gain control through eating disorders, completely shutting down in school, or excessively working on school work out of fear of failure.
Teens have a hard time coping with stress, and, to be honest, we, their parents and teachers, don’t give them a lot of positive alternatives.
Why? Because we still struggle with how to manage our own stress.
We can do something about it though.
While I am NOT a trained counselor, I have spent years learning to manage my own stress in healthier ways. As a teen I developed an eating disorder, perfectionistic tendencies, excessive drinking, and an unhealthy fear of failure to meet expectations in response to the stress I was experiencing which led to a major crisis in my life. Since then I have learned there are so many alternatives to dealing with stress than the coping mechanisms I relied on.
As a parent and educator I have watched over the years as our teens have become far more stressed and anxious than is healthy. Pressure to perform in school and sports at ever-higher expectations is causing them to doubt their potential in tragic ways. I have had students freak out because they received a 95% in my course out of fear that their GPA would be affected negatively because they didn't get a higher percentage and that they therefore would not be able to get into college. As FRESHMEN. My own children experienced overwhelming stress as they fought to compete for spots on sports teams and meet coaches’ and teachers’ expectations.
It seems, however, that we have all just accepted this as “normal” for our teens in this season of life and believe they will get through it.
But the stress level they, and indeed all of us, are facing is NOT normal and we shouldn’t just accept it and move on with our day, or let our teens just live in it either.
Why not? Because the long term effects of stress are disastrous. According to the an article published by the American Psychological Association,
“Left unchecked, long-term stress can contribute to a long list of physical and mental health problems. Prolonged stress can cause high blood pressure, weaken the immune system and contribute to diseases such as obesity and heart disease. It can also lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression—disorders that are becoming more common in youth. In a 2018 study, researchers analyzed data from the National Survey of Mental Health and found that rates of anxiety and depression had increased in kids ages 6 to 17, from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011-12."
So, how do we as parents and educators, help the teens in our lives better cope with stress? Here are a few ideas:
Start with yourself. How are you managing your stress? How do you react when you get stressed out? How often are you stressed? Your teens are watching how you handle stress, whether they are your children or your students. If you don't deal with it, why should they? If you deal with it in anger, controlling responses, or shutting down, why shouldn't they? Teens are the biggest hypocrite-detectors in the universe. We need to walk the walk before they will accept any suggestions from us.
Demonstrate the importance of self-care. Too often we take care of ourselves after everything else gets done and everyone else is taken care of, and it’s usually when no one is around to need us. How are teens supposed to learn how to take care of their own selves if we don’t model it for them?
Ideas for Educators:
Set healthy boundaries for bathroom use and eating. Your students' demands for help are not more important than your physical needs.
Hold brain breaks regularly during class.
Hold mindfulness/breathing sessions before tests to ease anxiety.
Show your students how to break down large projects into smaller assignments.
Hold mini-stretching sessions in the middle of lectures.
Begin or end each class with a breathing session.
Build creativity into down time: have coloring sheets and colored pencils/markers, or play-dough, or mindfulness exercises, available for students to use when their work is finished.
Ideas for Parents:
Set healthy boundaries for sleep with your teens. They need between 8-10 hours of sleep each night.
Model taking time to transition between work and family and school and family.
Practice mindful breathing with your teens. They may roll their eyes, but in your relaxed state you are less likely to blow up at them. 😉
Help your teen break down their assignment load into manageable schedules with built-in breaks. If you find their schedule is too packed for self-care, help them determine what can be eliminated.
Talk to your teen about stress and ask them regularly to indicate their stress levels.
Build fun into your daily lives, either together as a family, or individually, or both.
Take the time to do something kind for yourself each day, call it out for your teens, and invite them to discover how kind they can be for themselves.
Seek professional help when necessary. Model seeking help when your stress level becomes too high by meeting with a trained counselor, and encourage your teens to do the same. Seeing a counselor is not a sign of weakness. It takes great courage to admit when your circumstances are beyond your control and to seek help.
How we act when we experience stress will determine its impact on whatever’s next in our lives. It's no different for our teens. We, as parents and educators, have the influence to help teens learn to better cope with their stress to build a positive, rather than a negative, impact on whatever's next for them. They may reject it, but they will still see it and, when they are ready, they’ll know how to handle their stress too.
For more on learning how to better help the teens in your life handle their stress, why not reach out for a free 30 minute call? There's no obligation and I definitely will not pressure you for anything further.
Or, you could visit my YouTube page for all the videos I have done to help parents and educators cope with and help the stressed out teens in their lives.