As a parent, you may already have started working with your teen on managing some of the challenges and pressures that he or she faces at home, at school or with friends. Most teens want to fit in, they want to succeed academically and in extracurricular activities, and they want to feel secure and loved when they come home each day, even if they don't put those needs into words. When you add frequent moves and the deployment of a parent into the already potentially stressful life of your average teen, he or she may begin to feel overwhelmed and underprepared to manage those stresses successfully. And teenagers don't always have the tools and information they need to handle stress in healthy ways. This article describes some common symptoms of stress in teens and offers stress management strategies and additional resources where you can find help.
Teenagers and stress
Everyone reacts to stress differently, including teenagers. By helping teens recognize the signs and symptoms of stress, they can be better equipped to identify and manage their stress. Your teen's particular symptoms may vary, but these are some common signs of stress to watch for in teens:
- 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, change in peer group
- Lack of energy or excessive boredom, falling grades in school
Helping your teen manage stress
You can help your teen successfully manage stress by keeping the lines of communication open and trying these techniques:
- Be sure your teenager knows that you're available to listen without being judgmental or giving advice. It can be hard for parents to simply listen, but often teenagers just need a sounding board to help them think through problems.
- Share your own stressful experiences from when you were a teenager and felt overwhelmed and how you coped with it.
- Understand the difference between distraction and avoidance activities. Watching television, calling a friend or reading a book are all distractions that can help teens cope with stress. But sometimes these distractions should not become a means of avoiding an underlying problem.
- Talk about the role of negative thinking in stress. Imagining worst-case scenarios or repeating negative thoughts almost always increases stress, and the worst-case scenario so often never happens! Talk with your teen about how he or she can recognize and redirect negative thoughts.
- Acknowledge your teenager's worries and fear. Teenage worries may seem trivial to parents, but if you treat even a teenager's small concerns with respect, you will likely gain credibility and prove yourself as approachable to your teen.
- Set realistic expectations for your children. Stress often comes from parents placing too-high expectations on their children. Expecting your child to do his or her personal best is fine, but remember that none of us is perfect and that your teen is his or her own person. Remember to compliment teens when they work responsibly through challenges.
- Encourage your teenager to tackle stress at its source. This can be the best way to deal with specific stressors. For example, if your teenager is feeling stressed by the prospect of an upcoming test, encourage him or her to seek extra help studying. Addressing the stress head-on helps your teen take control of the circumstances and is more efficient and productive than just stewing about it.
Most of the stress that teenagers experience is a normal part of adolescence. But sometimes they experience chronic stress or stress that might lead to negative behaviors or emotional problems. If you are concerned about your teenager's emotional or physical well-being, you can get help immediately from a professional such as your pediatrician, an adolescent medicine specialist or a counselor.
Non-medical counseling services are available for your teen through Military OneSource or military and family life counselors. These short-term counseling services are offered at no cost and are confidential. For more help:
- Visit Military OneSource online or call 800-342-9647.
- Contact MFLCs through your installation military and family support center.
- Find support by speaking with your unit's chaplain. Contact information can be found locally through your military and family support center.
You can't protect your child from stress or manage it for them, but you can help your child learn ways to handle it. Your teenager needs your help identifying sources of stress and figuring out ways to reduce that stress. If you learn to develop a subtle, nonjudgmental and genuine approach, you can become one of your teen's most important stress-management resources.