Great Health Guide
SUPPORTING YOUR TEEN THROUGH STRESS
Empowering tools to help your teenager through stress.
AS adults, most of us will have experienced stress at some point in our lives and this is completely normal. But, if stress gets out of hand, it can become problematic. Teenagers may not have been taught how to cope with stress and as parents, you may wonder if you know how best to help them.
BE AWARE OF KEY TRIGGERS.
Research shows that teens are more stressed than ever and that in 2018 teens were the most stressed age group of all. In one paper in 2018, which surveyed nearly 36,000 teenagers, nearly 45% of teens said they were stressed “all the time”. Clearly this is a serious issue.
Key areas of stress for teens across different studies, suggest that the main causes of stress are school, career choice, financial concerns for the family, relationships, teachers, parents, friends and world events. Curiously social media was not cited in all studies by the teens, but it is claimed by some psychology experts to be a key component, especially with the use of chat rooms and forums.
WHAT SIGNS SHOULD YOU LOOK OUT FOR?
The signs of stress can be variable, but look out for:
• Changes in emotional behaviour (and trust your gut - if it feels concerned explore further). Look especially for out of character, irrational behaviours, or unusual isolation from social groups.
• Frequent sickness, aches (e.g. stomach and head) and infections.
• Worrying changes to eating or sleeping habits, or an inability to be still.
• Any concerns around cognitive ability, focus, memory, apparent carelessness (outside of character). Significant changes in academic performance. Irrational decision making.
• Negative talk and over generalisations, e.g. ‘no one likes me’; ‘I can’t do
anything right’, or excessive worrying that is irrational in nature.
While this list is not exhaustive as each teen will experience stress differently, it gives you some first pointers. Teenagers are at risk of anxiety, depression and even suicide, so if you are at all concerned, seek professional support early. For most teens though, you can help them learn to cope in a chaotic world.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP? 1. Model good stress management. This includes thinking and language patterns.
There are some key areas where you can really make a difference.
How you respond to a bad day at work, can influence your teen. Think about what good practice you can teach them, by doing it yourself. Be careful with how you talk about stressful events and what thinking you display through language and behaviour. Encourage careful exploration of issues, avoiding reactive, black and white responses, which offer no hope, or sense of control.
2. Spend time with your teen – genuinely listening.
Listen to understand and respect their reality. Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling. Invite them to consider alternative perspectives. Discourage comparisons, especially to social media ‘gurus’.
3. Focus on gratitude and feeling good.
Make it a habit, as a family to express gratitude often. Talk about the good things and celebrate good experiences.
4. Find relaxation techniques together.
For example - breathing, meditation and mindfulness. Find ways to explore relaxation together.
Teach them the importance of breathing and get comfortable doing that together. Model the importance of still, quiet, down time and encourage them to build that into their day.
5. Focus on health and wellbeing including:
• Physical activity – especially for boys, and for girls, social connection, to reduce the amount of cortisol in the system. Teach them about healthy, balanced exercise regimes and build some movement as routine into every day.
• Family and key social connections. Encourage social connection, in the family and outside – it is key to health and wellbeing.
• Sleep – for a teen the recommended is between 8 and 10 hours of sleep a night. Consider turning off the Wi-Fi to reduce the opportunity to stay online or do gaming into the night.
• Nutrition – again this is a chance to model ‘healthy’ as a family. Plan meals to ensure a good balance of the key components of a healthy diet. Inviting your teen to cook once a week can encourage them to start to get involved in food choices and set them up for healthy independence when they leave home.
6. Supporting your teen through stress.
Ensure you offer great, positive identitybased reinforcement regularly. As humans we are negatively wired, and a stressed teen is likely to be even more so. Ensure any discipline or feedback is not at an identity level but focuses on tasks and behaviours. A positive reinforcement is about who they are:
• what amazing teens they are • how proud you are of them • and who they are growing to become.
This quick self-help guide offers some simple advice for parenting a stressed teen. Remember, if you are concerned about their health and wellbeing, seek professional support and advice early on, but know as a parent, there is so much you can do to help them through their teenage years.
Dr Suzanne Henwood is the Director and Lead Coach and Trainer of mBraining4Success. She is also the CEO of The Healthy Workplace and a Master Trainer and Master Coach of mBIT (Multiple Brain Integration Techniques) and can be contacted via her website.