Teens are often unfamiliar with stress, so they don’t know how to react to it or to tell you that stress is what they are experiencing. It’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms of stress in adolescents so you can identify the root cause. The most common symptom of stress in teens is a sudden, unexplained change in attitude or behavior. A sudden loss of interest in activities that they used to love, constant worry, or excessive complaining may all be signs that your child is stressed out. Another sign of high levels of stress is often feeling sick with no physical diagnosis. Lastly, teens may express stress by making negative comments about themselves. Unfortunately, all of these symptoms may be signs of another problem. When you see these symptoms pop up, you’ll need to sit down with your child and try to discover the root of what’s bothering them.
Teens, School, and Stress
According to a recent American Psychological Association study, teens’ and adults’ stress patterns are alarmingly similar, especially during the school year. There’s no question that stress can be unhealthy. High levels of stress can affect sleep patterns, eating habits, and the frequency of exercise — all elements that are critical to our health. Of course, you can’t just have your teen drop out of school because it may be adding to stress, so it’s important to learn how to cope with this stress in healthy ways.
What is stressful about school?
Teens face a ton of pressure in high school. They’re constantly hearing about how they need to get into a good school, and if they don’t, their lives will be miserable. That may sound overly dramatic to an adult, but when you’re 16 and you hear that all the time, you begin to believe it. They’re also told that they need to sign up for more extracurricular activities to get into a good school, so there’s a tendency to overschedule themselves. In addition to all this scholastic pressure, they are facing a lot of pressure from peers to fit in, make lots of friends, and increase their “popularity.” That’s a lot to deal with — especially during your awkward teenage years.
What are some strategies we can use to cope with the stress?
Looking at all the things they are responsible for at once can be overwhelming. You can help alleviate some of the stress by helping your child prioritize and organize their activities. Look at the things that will take the most time — semester projects, exams, etc. — and set specific time slots aside for them first. Then work your way down from the top priority items until, at the end of the list, there are some activities that they may be able to cancel if necessary. Also, sit down with your child and try to set up some realistic goals. They may think that if they don’t belong to five teams and seven clubs while maintaining a 4.0 GPA that their lives after high school will be ruined. If you set some realistic goals, they may not be overwhelmed or disappointed in themselves in the end. Lastly, focus on being healthy. Make sure your child has some time to get exercise. Emphasize healthy eating habits and explain to them the importance of getting enough sleep. If they stay healthy, they’ll have an easier time managing stress.
My teen’s stress level is out of control. What can I do?
If you’ve hit a point where nothing you say or do helps the teen stress, it may be time to get some help. Teachers and guidance counselors are good places to start, because they know your child and they are trained to deal with these problems. You may also have your child to talk a therapist — a health professional can often gain insights from clues that you wouldn’t know to look for. If the problem has become completely overwhelming and you just don’t know where to turn, contact an interventional therapy program like Outback. We deal with these types of problems every day and we can assess your situation and point you in the right direction to get your child back on the right path.