Helping teens manage stress

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We live in a stressful world. From work to home life, everyone deals with some form of stress on a daily basis. It’s worth noting, however, that teen stress appears to be on the rise – and often at an alarming rate. In fact, a recent study by the American Psychological Association reported that teens frequently experience unhealthy levels of stress, and unfortunately, they are not equipped to handle it. If you have a teen living under your roof – or you will in the not-so-distant future – read on.

What are teens stressed about?

In addition to normal woes like peer pressure and dating, teens today experience heightened academic stress and pressure to succeed, especially socially. For teens entering high school at a disadvantage, perhaps due to their socio-economic status, the stress of making the right connections, participating in the right activities and breaking out of their current cycle is difficult to manage. For students who naturally have a leg up on their peers, the need to maintain their status and perform at increasingly high levels is often overwhelming and exhausting.

Technology is another source of stress for many teens. Unlimited access to the Internet creates an increased risk for anxiety and depression. Aside from social media pressures and cyber bullying, which are well-documented concerns, teens are tethered to their devices, which creates unrealistic expectations for communication and inhibits their ability to genuinely connect with others. It’s no wonder this is stressing them out.

How can I help my teen manage stress?

Your teen is not yet an adult and still needs guidance when it comes to making healthy lifestyle choices.

Here’s what I suggest:

  • Promote adequate sleep. Teens need a lot of sleep. The school day begins early, and a full night of rest is necessary. Lack of sleep inhibits your child’s ability to learn, cope and function. The two main reasons your teen is losing sleep? Homework and cell phones. Time management plays an important role and is a valuable skill to learn. Teach your teen to prioritize studying and extracurricular activities and to get to bed at a decent hour. I suggest setting strict technology boundaries that include a policy of no cell phone and social media during homework time and a cell phone check-in at night.
  • Provide an outlet. Teens need an escape. Whether it’s an athletic hobby, an art class, a camp or a job, it’s important to experience life outside of school and to see that the world is bigger than a tally of Instagram likes. Teens need experiences that are not based solely on performance – opportunities to develop a sense of identity and purpose.
  • Offer reassurance. The world does a great job of letting your teen know about the many ways he or she is not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough or athletic enough. It’s your job to squash those lies. Do whatever you can to create a stress-free haven at home. Empathize with your teen. Celebrate his or her strengths. Ask questions, and above all, listen. When your teen feels accepted and peaceful at home, he or she will be better prepared to tackle the outside world.
  • Model stress management. It’s difficult to teach your teen how to manage stress if you’re always stressed. Remember that your son or daughter is watching you, so be sure to model coping mechanisms like exercise, healthy eating, technology breaks and leisure time.

Not sure how to talk with your teen about stress management? Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available. It’s best to tackle stress head on and work together to find strategies for managing it.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.