A study by the American Psychological Association has found that parents significantly misjudge their child’s level of stress. Among its findings was that 45 percent of teens reported feeling more worried in 2009 than they had the previous year while only 28 percent of parents believed that their teens were more worried. The study also revealed that teens are having more headaches and sleepless nights than their parents realize.
There are reasonable explanations as to why you may not be aware of the stress your child is experiencing. You may not know what signs to look for, your teen may be acting like everything is ok or perhaps you are too overwhelmed with stress yourself that it’s difficult to give your child the attention they need.
Regardless of the explanation, this is a serious concern that should be addressed with your child regardless of how well you think they are doing. By ignoring the possibility that your teen may be struggling, you run the high risk that they will eventually begin to manifest physical, emotional and/or behavioral symptoms. Physical symptoms may include headaches, insomnia, back or stomach pain, loss of appetite or panic attacks. Emotional symptoms may include depression, significant mood swings or poor attention and focus. Behavioral symptoms may include violence, disrespectful and disruptive behavior, drug or alcohol use or bullying. Some of these may be happening already.
Consider the following suggestions to help your teen manage stress.
- Acknowledge and validate your child’s experience. The simple act of letting your child know that you get how hard it can be for them at times may be enough to let out some of the air in their balloon.
- Put less emphasis on outcomes such as winning, getting straight A’s and being the best. Instead, emphasize qualities such as effort, problem solving and attitude.
- Ensure that your teen has some downtime and space to reflect. Teens need more time to process and make sense of their experiences than adults do.
- Continue to prioritize family time through dinners, celebrations, vacations and other family traditions. Time with family helps teens feel more grounded.
- Don’t take their negative behavior personally because it’s not. Your teen’s brain is going through a massive renovation which makes them more like big kids than small adults.
- Check in with your teen often, briefly and on their schedule. Your child lives in a sound bite world and is only “open for business” at certain times of the day and week.
- Be consistent and patient. Getting teens to open up about their feelings and thoughts is a process and doesn’t happen with a big sit down talk or long lecture, it happens with many small conversations and interactions over time.
- Stay involved in their academic and extracurricular life but remind them repeatedly that you love them the same regardless of their performance.
- Get to know and accept your teen’s friends even if you don’t like some of them. Telling your teen you don’t like their friends will only make these same friends more appealing.
- Allow and support your teen to have the control of temporarily “trying on” different tastes, preferences and beliefs. For example, clothes, hair color or style, choice of friends, music and religious views are all battles not worth fighting.
- Don’t take yourself or your role as a parent too seriously. Have fun with your teen. Don’t be afraid to be silly and laugh at yourself occasionally.
- Commit to some technology free time each day. This could be at dinner time or before bed time.
- Ensure your teen is getting enough sleep. Teens need more sleep then either adults or children. Approximately 8.5 to 9 hours a night is ideal.
- Focus on the positives. Pay attention to the little things that your teen does well. Don’t ignore the negative behaviors, just make sure you notice and make a bigger deal out of the positive ones.
- Pay attention to how you manage stress. Are you modeling healthy coping and self care? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, get support for yourself. Your teen may not be coming to you because they don’t want to add any more stress to your life.
What are some of your thoughts and ideas?