Teenagers are well-known for their evolving opinions, intense emotions, and constantly raging hormones — and no wonder; the adolescent brain is awash with heightened hormonally-driven responses, many of which are directly attributable to stress.
As stress-sensitive portions of the brain, such as the limbic and cortical areas, develop and mature, it can lead to increases in psychological struggles, such as depression and anxiety. This can, in turn, manifest in physical actions such as drug or alcohol abuse.
While teenage cognitive development is a completely normal part of life, it can be very difficult, especially at abnormally stressful times. Life experiences, such as academic pressure, the forming and breaking of relationships, early employment, moving out of the house, and even acne, new teeth, or other cosmetically-altering changes can all put stress on a teenager’s mind.
This isn’t just true for teenagers themselves, either, but also for the parents and guardians that are trying to physically, mentally, and emotionally support them. If you have a teenager that is going through a stressful life event, here are some suggestions for ways to respectfully help them through the transition.
Help Them Develop Healthy Coping Methods
Coping methods are different from numbing your feelings or denying reality. Coping simply enables an individual to gain a degree of space from a traumatic situation in order to properly analyze and respond to it. There are several different coping methods that can be used, such as:
- Coping through soothing: Help your teen to restore calmness and peace to their emotional state through soothing activities such as maintaining positive internal dialogue or processing thoughts and emotions through verbal conversation.
- Coping through distractions: Encourage to focus on a distraction that distances themselves from fear, pain, or stress in order to help them better process their feelings.
- Coping through balancing: Guide your struggling teen to speak honestly, create lists, or discuss a situation with friends in order to introduce a sense of logic to their high-strung emotions.
Any and all of these methods can be helpful, and their effectiveness will largely depend on your child’s personality and how they process things. For instance, if your teen is struggling to adjust to new braces, help them discuss their future benefits (soothing coping), remember why braces are important (balanced coping), or engage in an activity that they like in order to create distance to process their feelings (distraction coping).
Facilitate a Regular Schedule
Teenagers are notoriously disenchanted with the idea of a regular schedule. Activities like getting up early for school, heading to soccer practice, and even attending class on time can be seen as exhausting responsibilities.
As a parent, it’s important that you don’t push an excessive schedule onto your teenager, especially when they’re struggling with stress. Instead, look for ways to help them manage their existing schedule with as little stress as possible. This can include:
- Working with them to form their pre-existing early responsibilities into a predictable, habitual morning routine.
- Encouraging them to work planned downtime into an overcrowded schedule.
- Helping them identify what parts of a busy schedule can be under-prioritized or even eliminated entirely to help reduce overall stress.
However, you go about it, enabling your teen to take control of their existing responsibilities can be a gentle way to facilitate a less stressful lifestyle.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement has long been championed as a powerful way to motivate children and adults alike. Using positive reinforcement consistently motivates employees better than a punitive alternative. Even temporary positive reinforcement has also been shown to create lasting healthy habits in children as well.
When it comes to stressed-out teenagers, the power of a positive word is even more important. Rather than simply ignoring a young adult’s anxiety or shaming a teenager for resorting to drugs or alcohol, it’s important to make a conscious effort to acknowledge and reward good behavior when it manifests.
When your child successfully uses a coping mechanism or sticks to a morning routine, take the time to highlight the accomplishment. This encourages repetition of the healthy behavior and associates it with positive results.
Teach Patience Through Example
Parenting is difficult, and at times it can feel impossible — especially when you’re dealing with the unpredictable mood and temper of a maturing teenager. However, this unpredictability only serves to underscore the critical fact that you must avoid responding to your teen’s emotional outbursts in kind.
Their stress may take the form of impatience, depression, and even aggression at times. As such, it’s absolutely essential that you maintain your poise when responding. Stay calm and collected, display logic and reason, and try to meet them on their level. This “walking the walk” attitude can help to set an example for your child as they learn to handle their unchecked emotions.
Promote Constructive Activities
Often a teen’s stress, anxiety, and depression can lead to a general apathy of their surroundings and activities. With this indifference always remaining a threat, it’s important to specifically encourage them when they actually show interest in a constructive activity.
It doesn’t matter if they want to start working out, reading books, or taking cooking classes, the uniqueness or unconventionality of the activity should hardly matter. If your teenager is interested in a socially, emotionally, creatively, or intellectually stimulating activity, do your best to stoke that fire.
It’s tempting to go out of your way to protect and solve your teenager’s problem. However, being a helicopter parent isn’t just unnecessary, it’s counterproductive to their development.
Instead, look for opportunities to encourage feelings of confidence and capability in your fledgling adult. Let them make their own choices whenever possible and encourage interests that may not be particularly attractive to yourself. This can provide a sense of control and purpose that can go a long way in combatting feelings of stress and despondency.
Make Healthy Meals
While the main focus of teenage stress tends to revolve around emotions and cognition, it’s crucial that you don’t neglect your teen’s physical health during these times. It’s important to discuss health and wellbeing at every age, and teenagehood is an ideal time to point out the ramifications of dietary choices.
Explain how food can enhance or foil one’s attempt to maintain clear skin, grow healthy adult teeth, and generally stay in good health. It also doesn’t hurt that all of those physical benefits can serve to boost their happiness and self-confidence. Taken together, the teen years are essential to helping build a better relationship with food that can affect long-term health and happiness
Nurture Active Interests
Finally, keeping in the theme of using physical health to support emotional and mental wellbeing, it’s important to encourage your teen to stay active. This can be in any number of ways including:
- Participating in thoroughly organized sports such as soccer, football, or basketball.
- Playing in a pickup or rec league.
- Going for a daily run or visiting the gym on a regular basis.
- Participating in physical social activities like ice skating, dancing, or swimming.
Regardless of the specific form it takes, getting proper exercise can keep your teen’s body healthy. It can also encourage relaxation and minimize stress by reducing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, as well as can help promote the production of endorphins, all of which are excellent for properly combatting stress.