Helping Your Teenager Cope with Stress
Often adults think that they’re the only ones experiencing stress. But really, children and teenagers get stressed, too. And the stress may be all the more pronounced for teenagers, at the time when they are especially vulnerable. As adolescents struggle to establish their identity, these stressors can sometimes feel more overwhelming. It’s not easy to be a teenager these days!
Parents can be particularly helpful in providing their child with the tools to cope positively with stress. As Hodding Carger Jr. once said, “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.” When our children have the tools to positively deal with the stress, we actually prepare them for future life, helping them become more resilient, stronger and more able to face the challenges that life has in store for them.
There are times when the stress your teen is experiencing is a bit overwhelming that it eventually becomes a serious problem. You may have to turn to the help of family counseling.
Here are some of the common stressors teens nowadays have to deal with:
- Body Image pressures. Magazines, movies and even the internet parade sexy women and well-toned, well-muscled men. Teenagers may feel the pressure to look a particular way. They may become vulnerable to pressures to be “thin enough” or “sexy enough”. They may start developing an eating disorder, exercise excessively and be more preoccupied with how one looks and weighs.
- 2. Pressure from peers. One of a teenager’s pressing needs is the need to belong, the need to be with the “in crowd”. Peer pressure may come in the form of being able to dress or behave a certain way or belonging to a certain group of friends. Peers may entice teenagers to join them in playing truant, having sex, drink alocohol or try other addictive substances.
- Relationships. One teenager was crying her eyes out. When asked by a parent, the teen laments, “I love Leonardo di Caprio, and I am just sad that he doesn’t even know that I exist!”. The teenage years is a period of discovery and teens start to feel attraction for the opposite sex (and in some cases the same sex). They may feel the pressure of getting noticed by the person they like. The stress becomes more pronounced when the teenager already has a boyfriend/girlfriend. Fights and breakups take on a large amount of emotional energy.
- Changes in their bodies. Puberty is a time when hormones are running amuck and when the body undergoes a lot of changes. These changes may feel overwhelming and sometimes frightening. Teenage girls may feel anxiety about getting her period or boys may feel awkward about their changing voices.
- School stress. The teenager may stress about getting good grades, balancing academics with his or her social life, deal with conflicts with teachers and other persons of authority or having too many activities on top of his academic life.
- Family stress. As teenagers start to explore boundaries, they may start questioning (or even testing) rules that parents may impose. Parents and teens may not also see eye to eye with many matters such as the teen’s schedule, his curfew, chores, phone and computer usage, friends, choice of college and so on. Siblings also add to the stress, as you can expect siblings to have spats from time to time. Family-related stress can also come in the form of parents divorcing, changes in the family’s finances, the sickness or death of a family member or the need to move to another location.
Helping our teens handle stress
Robert Heinlein reminds parents: “Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easy.” As parents, though, we can help our child cope with the stress positively and appropriately. Remember, the teenage years are a particularly challenging phase in any person’s life. The feelings and changes as well as the stress they have to deal with make them vulnerable to depression, drugs and alcohol use.
Be there for them. At this stage, it is important for a teenager to have someone he or she can talk to. Chances are, if he can’t talk to his parents, he will turn to peers for advice (and you’re not really sure what kind of advice his friends will give). Make your teenager understand that when he or she needs to talk, you are there to listen. Carve out time for one-on-one “dates”, as well as “group dates” with the family. Laugh and play together as a family. Make sure that you also have regular dinners together in your home and outside. This way, your teen knows that he can approach you anytime to discuss problems that have been bothering him.
Encourage your child to have a wide circle of friends. There are many areas where a child can meet friends such as school, the community center, your church or the local sports team.
Build your child’s sense of self and confidence. The teenage years is a time of doubt – about who they are, how they look. Make sure that you build your child and not tear him down. Find opportunities to praise him, point out his good qualities. A teenager with high self-esteem is more able to cope with stress than one who is riddled with self-doubt.
Encourage healthy outlets. This may come in the form of physical activity and sports. It may also be about hobbies and pasttimes. You can also encourage your child to express himself via a diary or journal. (Just make sure that you also respect your child’s privacy and resist the temptation to take a peek at what is written there.)
Finding help for our teens
Sometimes, it could also help to seek family therapy when family issues become a main source of teenage stress. Often, a teenager may need help expressing and processing his feelings and thoughts about a certain family situation. A licensed family therapist can help the teen thresh out the issues and the positive responses he can make.
There are also instances when problems with alcohol and drugs warrant the services of a substance abuse counselor to help the teen break out of his addictions. A family therapist that specializes and has experience handling teens would be a great help to teens as they try to learn to manage their stress.
Triston Morgan is one such therapist. He is licensed to practice marriage and family therapy in the state of Utah and he has had extensive experience treating adolescents, particularly in the area of substance use. Since starting his practice in Provo, Utah, Triston has been involved in wilderness therapy programs especially designed for teens. As a therapist in Utah, Triston is committed to helping local teens increase their emotional capacity and confidence.