Today, more than a quarter of teens say they experience extreme stress, and more than a third say they expect their stress levels to increase in the year to come. Parents agree: nearly 40% of parents say their teen is experiencing high levels of stress from school.
Often parents respond to the stress levels of children by wanting to manage or alleviate their stress. In reality, not all stress is negative. A healthy level of stress can motivate students to learn to manage tasks, prioritize, and get things done. However, chronic stress during difficult seasons can pose long-term challenges for teens. Experiencing stress for extended periods of time can lead to depressive thoughts and behaviors, and teens may turn to unhealthy coping methods. Here is how you can help.
1.) Identify the root of the stress: Is this short-term stress, or a long-term problem?
Short-term stress — like finals week, for example — is temporary, and the stress levels will go back to normal shortly. A little bit of stress occasionally is to be expected, as teens take on more responsibilities and prepare for their next steps after high school.
Long-term stress, in contrast, is not sustainable and points to the need for change. Is your teen’s course load unreasonably demanding? Has your teen taken on too many extracurricular endeavors? Or, is the root of the stress time management? Does your teen tend to procrastinate? Maybe your teen has too much screen time and is not spending enough time on homework? For other teens, stress is unrelated to school work and connected instead to peer pressure or social worries. Getting to the root of the stress is the first step in creating a plan to relieve it.
2.) Look at how you respond to stress in your own life.
Teens pick up on our cues. How do you react to stress? Do you make lifestyle changes to alleviate it, or is your response to your own stress unhealthy? Your teen may respond similarly.
Use your own stress as a platform to begin the conversation with your teen. Be honest about how you handle it, and acknowledge where you could approach stress differently. This opens the door to authentic connection, and lets your teen know you are here as an ally when stress feels unmanageable. When your teen responds, offer undivided attention and really listen.
3.) Partner with your teen to develop a stress relief game plan.
Come alongside your teen to navigate the root of the stress. Resist the urge to micromanage; instead, be present for your child as a resource. If the stress is part of a larger theme, like problems with time management, struggling with perfectionism or taking on too much, discuss the needed changes. Consider helping your teen make a schedule for studying, or plan a lighter course load for the next semester.
Then, get tactical. What are some small ways that your teen can relieve stress in the moment? How can your teen draw on a support system for help? What brings your teen joy? How can your teen use physical activity to relieve stress? This could be as simple as taking the family dog for a walk, playing a favorite game, sport or aerobic activity. Plan activities that you and your teen can do together, too.
For some teens, stress may be a symptom of a larger problem. If you are in the middle of a challenging season with your teen, it can be tough to determine what to do next. Consider Shelterwood Residential Treatment Agency. Shelterwood combines boarding school excellence with the best in therapeutic care for real transformation. At Shelterwood, our desire is to create an environment where teens know they are loved, valued and have purpose.
Take the first step for hope, real heart change and real restoration for your teen. Reach out today: 800.584.5005.