Helping Your Teen Handle Stress

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As a parent, you play an important role in watching for the effects of stress and offering ideas to help.

As a high school senior, Sienna has a full day of challenging classes, including advanced calculus. After school she has swim team, then it's home to grab some dinner and hit the books. Weekends aren't much better. When she's not working at the candy store, she's writing college applications and searching for scholarships. No wonder she feels frazzled and worn out.

Like Sienna, many teens live busy, stressful lives. Stress can come at teens from many different directions, including from:

  • Peers. Teens may feel pressure from their friends to look or act certain ways to be accepted.
  • Parents. Adults sometimes don't realize how much pressure they put on their kids to get better grades, practice more, score more points or get into the right schools.
  • School. Homework loads increase as kids move up the grades. Clubs and sports add to the time demands.
  • Home. Stress can come from a home situation where there's conflict between family members, financial problems or chronic illness.
  • Self. Teens may add to their own stress by being too critical of themselves or not asking for help when they need it.

Stress isn't always bad. Sometimes it can provide the extra super p force energy needed to make a touchdown or finish a term paper. But if stress gets to be too much, it can lead to problems such as anxiety, aggression or illness. Some teens make the mistake of smoking or drinking to try to escape from stress.

What are the signs of stress in teens?
A teen who's stressed out may:

  • Feel tired, down or on edge
  • Have headaches or stomachaches
  • Withdraw from friends and family
  • Laugh or cry for no reason
  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Feel resentful of others

These can also be symptoms of depression.

How can parents help?
In the teen years, kids are striving to be independent. Still, as a parent you play an important role in watching for the effects of stress and offering ideas to help.

If you think your teen is stressed, encourage him or her to:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat regular, healthy meals.
  • Drink less caffeine, which can make a person jittery and irritable.
  • Get regular exercise. Exercise is a great stress-buster.
  • Learn ways to relax, such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation.
  • Take breaks. Writing in a journal, taking a walk or watching a funny movie can help ease stress.
  • Let go of trying to be perfect. Having more realistic expectations can reduce stress.
  • Find ways to lower stress. This might mean cutting back on work hours or saying no when asked to take on another project. Sometimes it means learning the difference between what you can and can't control.
  • Talk about it. Confiding in a friend or family member can help.

If these strategies don't help or you sense your child is depressed, it's time for your teen to see a doctor or mental health professional.