Each year, the topic of teenage stress garners increasing amounts of attention. In fact, a simple Google search for “teens and stress” yields an abundance of articles with key phrases along the lines of “severe anxiety” and “growing epidemic.” The attention is not unwarranted; in 2014, the American Psychological Association conducted a survey that revealed teenage stress levels rival those of adults. However, there are many ways that parents can help their children manage the more challenging moments in their lives, while providing them with tools to deal with stress in a healthy way. Here are a few suggestions that we use at the Green Ivy offices:
Emphasize the importance of sleep. Sleep is the foundation for everything in our lives, and it particularly affects mental health and stress management. According to the APA, adolescents should be getting 9–10 hours of sleep a night. As we know, however, when students are juggling school, friendships, and extracurriculars, the first thing sacrificed is sleep. Talking to your teen about healthy sleep habits, working with him or her to establishing a set sleep schedule, and following it as closely as possible (even on weekends) will make it easier for your teen to create lasting routines. We also advocate a “digital curfew” where all electronics are out of a child’s bedroom at least an hour before bedtime, which aids the body’s circadian rhythms.
Build in time to focus on their strengths. Encourage your teen to spend a few minutes each day truly reflecting on his or her strengths and/or the qualities he or she feels most proud of. You can then brainstorm some activities where your teenager could put his or her interests to use as a way to build these natural talents. If your teen is a tech whiz, he or she could volunteer as a tech tutor at a local library. Or if he or she is artistic, pursuing a community art class might be appealing. Focusing on the positive and your child’s innate talents will help keep stressors in perspective, while deepening the commitment to activities he or she already enjoys.
Encourage physical activity. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of teens and tweens having physically active lives. Physical activity encompasses more than participating in team athletics and doesn’t necessary involve rigorous exercise. We often talk to students about “functional exercise,” which is more about moving and stress relief than getting a good workout. Activities that involve family and friends can be even more beneficial to mental health, and can really be anything, from taking the dog on a hike or biking in the neighborhood, to taking a rock-climbing class.
Help your teen develop cognitive empathy. When your teen is distressed, as a parent, a first impulse might be to try and solve his or her problems. However, adolescence is a critical period in which teens need to develop their own socio-emotional problem-solving skills. Imparting lessons about empathy and perspective is particularly important to the cultivation of a skill known as cognitive empathy in teens. As NPR health journalist Juli Fraga writes, “Cognitive empathy allows us to try and understand someone else’s perspective and how they perceive the world, even if our feelings differ.” This ability to empathize can be thought of as an emotional pause button. It not only encourages teens to see a situation from another person’s perspective, but it also gives them the chance to reflect on the fact that all situations, including stressful ones, are temporary.
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