Do-or-die tests, overwhelming homework, impossible schedules, complicated relationships and looming decisions. When should you step in?
Does your teen have too much stress?
If he or she is anything like the typical teenager, the answer is a resounding yes.
Earlier this year, an American Psychological Association survey reported that teens across the U.S. have stress levels high enough to affect almost every part of their lives, with more than 27 percent saying they experience extreme stress during the school year.
A variety of physical and emotional dangers—including shorter life spans than their parents—could be on the horizon if teens don't "reverse their current trajectory" of chronic illness and poor health, the report warns. But you don't need a survey to tell you that. If you're the parent of a teenager, you see first-hand the strain your teen is under.
Sometimes stress is caused by a big event, but it may also come in small everyday stressors: homework, tests, decisions about the future, teacher problems, and relationship issues, family problems, home responsibilities, the pressure to look a certain way, being bullied, schedule overload, or the pressure to experiment with drugs, alcohol, or sex.
Just to name a few.
The sources of stress may vary by your teen's age. Early teens face rapid change as they go through puberty and navigate changing relationships with friends and the opposite sex.
They also must adjust to increased school demands. In the middle of the teen years, they may become anxious about entering high school, making top grades and getting their first jobs. Once in their older teen years they face the same stressors with the added strain of making decisions about college and a career. They may feel the pressure to succeed as adults or make adult-like decisions even though they don't have the life experience to do so.
Not sure if your teen is under too much stress? The best way to know is by staying involved in his or her life and watching for signs that may signal stress-things like anxiety, irritable behavior, moodiness, stomach problems or headaches, sleep issues, sadness, anger or even depression.
How can you help your teen if he or she is feeling stressed? Or better yet, how can you help prevent that stress from happening? Thankfully, there are a few things you can do.
1. Set a limit on your teen's activities.
Too many activities-even good activities-is one of the main causes of stress. Schedule overload happens when teens try to do it all: school, part-time jobs, sports teams, church activities, clubs, band, fundraisers, and dance classes. All of these activities might be good ones, but your teen most likely can't (and shouldn't have to) keep up with all of them at once.
Sit down together and have your teen write down his or her daily activities. Make up a daily schedule and see how much free time is left. Decide together what changes need to be made.
2. Help your teen be realistic.
If your teen is taking classes beyond his ability, the pressure will build. Or if he's demanding more of himself than what is healthy or possible, he's setting himself up for stress.
Is he working on projects beyond his ability? Trying to take part in activities that just aren't right for him? Taking AP classes when he's not ready? Help your teen develop realistic expectations.
3. Work with your teen on basic problem-solving skills.
Sometimes stress is caused by many small problems left unsolved. Instead of avoiding a problem, your teen can learn to take steps to solve problems as they occur. Look at each problem, and determine what the real issue is. Then look for possible solutions. Share with your teen some problems you've had and how you solved them.
4. Help your teen take time for fun and relaxation.
Exercise is a great stress reliever, so encourage your teen to turn off electronics and head outdoors. Plan family activities that encourage both togetherness and fitness.
5. Monitor your teen's sleep habits.
When a teen has a too-full schedule, sleep is often neglected. Because your teen is growing so quickly, she needs plenty of sleep. Find consistency in when she goes to bed and gets up each day.
6. Model Philippians 4:6-7.
"Don't worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
Pray with your teenagers for wisdom and encourage them to seek God's will for the choices they make.
If the stress your teen is under seems extreme, arrange for him or her to talk to a counselor. Sometimes outside help is needed to get things under control. Help your teen understand that seeing a counselor isn't a negative thing, it's simply a step toward regaining the correct balance in life.
Stress is a natural part of life and can be used positively as a motivator. The changes in the body caused by stress actually enhance our ability to perform under pressure. So a little stress, when kept in check, can help your teenager study harder, practice smarter and work more efficiently. But too much stress over time wears a person down and leads to physical and emotional problems.
Help your teens get their stress under control and you'll help them live out the abundant and full life God wants for them.