Stress is a very real and far reaching component of modern living. It affects increasing numbers of people and statistics show that the fastest rising numbers for stress related problems is amongst teenagers. Understanding the issues will be imperative for any parent wishing to know how to help their teenager cope with stress.
What causes stress in the teen years?
There are many factors that may cause stress in a teenager and different personalities will respond to this in a variety of ways. It is an incredibly difficult time of life for any individual as they have to battle with raging hormones, often alarming bodily changes, exam and school pressure as well as starting to experience many things for the very first time.
It can be a real ‘twilight zone’ with confusing feelings; they no longer fit in the world of children but are not yet adults, although they may be experiencing very adult things.
1.) Exams and schooling – enormous pressure is now put on teens during exams. Parents, media, teachers and their peers may all press home the message that failure in exams may lead to failure in life. It restricts college choices and therefore ultimately job choices.
2.) Awakening sexuality – the occurrence of puberty and its many and varied implications can be an extremely confusing time for a teenager. If they have developed physically in front or behind the pack it can be even worse. Along with all this, a teenager may be experiencing boyfriend/girlfriend issues for the first time or may be anxious at the lack of having a boyfriend/girlfriend.
3.) Family dysfunctions or problems – an unstable home life can be very unsettling and distressing for everyone concerned. Children of divorcing parents, where there has been death in the family or mental illness and alcoholism, can all contribute to escalating stress for a teenager.
4.) Peer problems – this can take many forms but often occurs as bullying, teasing, being made to feel like a misfit or relationship problems in general.
5.) Too much pressure – again, this can come from many directions including extra-curricular activities, overloaded time schedule, pressure from teachers, pressure from parents, self pressure and so on.
Humans are resilient creatures but if too many pressures and strains are placed on us we will buckle. Often we can cope with one large problem but not lots of smaller ones coming at us from every direction. Teenagers are no different.
A teenager under stress may become nervous, tearful, secretive, anxious, withdrawn, erratic, irrational and aggressive or the stress may manifest itself as an actual physical illness.
How can I reduce my teenager’s stress?
In most cases just providing a loving and supportive environment will be enough to reduce your teen’s stress or help him cope with it better. Here are a few points to consider:
1.) It is important not to ‘crowd’ your teenager. It is a time when individuals will be working to lessen some of the parental ties and it is important for a teenager’s dignity and confidence that they are allowed to try and find their own solutions. That doesn’t mean leaving them alone to sort it all out but rather taking a back seat with a view to coming in when needed, whilst offering constant reassurance.
2.) Never belittle what your teenager is experiencing. The problems may seem insignificant to you but remember you have more life experience on which to pull from. A teenager is a blossoming adult undergoing certain emotions and experiences for the very first time and consequently they are not skilled in their handling or equipped to know what to do.
3.) As much as possible keep communications open with your teenager. Make them aware that they can discuss any issue they need to but equally that you won’t interfere if they don’t wish you to do so. This is a hard balance to strike for many parents – knowing when to push and when to retreat.
Keep your advice for when it is specifically requested. Many teenagers aren’t seeking advice and your endless offering of it unsolicited will cause them to withdraw from you and feel more alone and alienated than ever.
4.) Ensure you are not inadvertently adding to your teenagers stress. Sometimes it is the highest achievers and most popular students who can buckle under the strain. Trying to maintain such high standards can be exhausting. If you are constantly boasting to friends and family about your ‘genius’ child or telling your child how proud you are of them because they are so brilliant you may well be the cause of anxiety in your child. Ensure you tell your child you are proud of them no matter what they achieve.
In some cases severe stress may lead to actual depression or a physical illness. In either case these can have serious consequences and need to be addressed before they deteriorate further. In such cases you may need to seek medical advice with or without your teenagers consent.
In most cases providing reassurance, love and support to your teenager as they overcome difficult periods is all that is necessary. Be available, be aware and be gentle and you will be providing the best environment you can for helping your teenager cope with stress.