It's probably too easy to romanticize the life of a teen as being carefree and easy — after all, they don't even have to pay rent — but let's be honest here: being a teen is pretty tough. It's not all just "lol" and chatting apps. There are so many things to juggle at once: fitting in at school, managing classwork and clubs, the daily tidal wave of zits across your face and desperately trying not blush every time your crush says hello. That's a lot to deal with. Add frequent moves and deployment to the list, and it's not so carefree and easy after all. Luckily, your teen has you, a wise and loving parent to look to for advice, and luckily for you, you have us.
Recognizing the signs
Realistically, your teen probably isn't going to come to you one day and say, "Hello, parent, I've been feeling stressed lately and here's why." You're going to need to learn the signs and keep an eye out. Everybody reacts to stress differently, but here are some general signs to look out for:
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Headaches, backaches, stomachaches and muscle tension
- Skipping meals or overeating
- Smoking, drinking alcohol or using drugs
- Irritability, anxiety, frequent crying
- Withdrawing from friends or family
- A change in peer group
- Lack of energy or excessive boredom
- Falling grades in school
Helping your teen manage stress
You've identified the signs and you think your teen is stressed. Now what? It can feel a little tricky to approach the situation, but try these tips and you'll do just fine, promise.
- Listen without judgment. This is the big one. If you want your teen to feel comfortable coming to you, make sure they know you're there to listen, not to judge. Sometimes all they need is somebody to talk with so they can think the problem through.
- Tell them your own experiences. A great way to let your teen know that stress is totally conquerable is to share a similar story from when you were a stressed-out teenager and how you dealt with it at the time.
- Recognize avoidance activities. Hanging out with friends, playing video games, and binging on Netflix can all be healthy distractions to make stress more manageable. But still, you can't let your teen rely on those things to avoid the real problems.
- Talk about the role of negative thinking in stress. The first thought that comes to mind when you're a stressed teenager is "my life is over." Then you start imagining all the different ways in which your life will be over. It's totally understandable, but that's also only going to make it worse. Think positively.
- Take the situation seriously. It's really easy to brush off teenage worries as trivial and silly, but these are real concerns for your teen. They are causing real stress, and you should treat them with respect.
- Set realistic expectations. We want the best for our kids. We're always pushing them to do better and do more. But when you're a teen and you bring home a B+ to your parents, you don't want to hear, "What? Not an A?" Encourage them to do better, but don't push them so hard they burn out.
- Tackle stress at the source. No doubt: the absolute best way to deal with stress is to face it head-on. If your teen is stressed about a test, for instance, encourage him or her to get extra help with studying to feel more prepared and confident. You can either sit around and stress, or you can do something and feel great.
Stress is a pretty normal part of adolescence and, really, of life in general. But sometimes it's a little more serious than that, and it can become chronic or lead to emotional problems if not addressed soon enough. If you're concerned about your teenager's emotional or physical well-being, you can get help immediately from a professional such as your pediatrician or a counselor. You can also get free confidential, non-medical counseling through Military OneSource or military and family life counselors:
- Visit Military OneSource online or call 800-342-9647.
- Contact military and family life counselors. Find them through your installation Military and Family Support Center.
- Get support by talking with your unit's chaplain. Find contact information locally through your Military and Family Support Center.
You can't protect your kids from stress or manage it for them, but you can help them learn ways to handle it. Your teenager needs your help identifying sources of stress and figuring out how to reduce it. If you learn to develop a subtle, nonjudgmental and genuine approach, you can be one of your teen's most important stress-management resources.