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Helping Teenagers with Stress

More Information on Teen Stress

Anxiety & Anxiety Disorders  -  Teen Depression

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder  -  Emotional Health


When we talk about stress, most people think about how we react to problems that are difficult to deal with.  Sometimes these problems are major "life events" that are unexpected or unusual.  The family may be having financial difficulties.  Parents may be going through a divorce.  Teens may be breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Perhaps the teen has been hurt in an accident.  Other problems are more common day-to-day difficulties.




The two most important things to know about teenagers dealing with stress:

  • A "pile-up" of many stressful life events in a small amount of time is more difficult for adolescents than dealing with just one event.

  • If a major event causes stress, it is often because it sets off a chain of events that intensifies the on-going, day-to-day stressful conditions of their lives.

The most common sources of day-to-day stress for teens are:

  • problems with peers (e.g., being bullied, break-up with boyfriend or girlfriend, dating relationship problems)

  • family issues or problems with parents

  • school-related problems or pressures

  • their own thoughts, feelings, or behaviors (feeling depressed or lonely, getting into trouble because of their behavior)

Other sources of stress for teens might include:

  • chronic illness or severe problems in the family

  • death of a loved one

  • moving to a new community

  • changing schools

  • taking on too many activities or having too high expectations

  • family financial problems

  • unsafe living environment/neighborhood

Parents can help their teen in these ways:

  • Encourage your teen to talk about what he or she is going through, and be willing to listen.  Don't just jump to conclusions and give advice.  Depending on the situation, your teen may not want advice -- just to be understood.  Even if a problem seems small to you, it may be a major concern for your child.  Minimizing a problem or saying "you'll get over it" is not helpful.  It gives the message you don't understand or are not willing to listen.

  • Offer reassurance, encouragement, and support.  Be willing to provide verbal or physical comfort, but don't be discouraged if your teen rejects your effort or is irritable.  These are normal reactions to stress.  Be patient and let your child know you're available if he or she needs you.

  • Continue to provide structure, stability, and predictability.  Within reason, stick to the same rules, boundaries, roles, and routines.

  • Encourage your teen to participate in activities normally enjoyed.  Support involvement in positive and pro-social activities (e.g., sports, volunteer work, church).

  • Model effective stress management and coping skills.

  • Build a relationship so that your teen will feel comfortable coming to you when he or she needs help.

Teens can decrease stress with the following behaviors and techniques:

  • Exercise and eat regularly.

  • Avoid excess caffeine intake which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation.

  • Don't use illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

  • Learn relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques).

  • Develop assertiveness training skills.  For example, state feelings in polite, firm, and not overly aggressive or passive ways ("I feel angry when you yell at me" "Please stop yelling").

  • Rehearse and practice situations which cause stress.  One example is taking a speech class, if talking in front of a class makes you anxious.

  • Learn practical and effective coping skills.  For example, break a large task into smaller, more attainable tasks.

  • Decrease negative self talk.  Challenge negative thoughts about yourself with alternative neutral or positive thoughts. "My life will never get better" can be transformed into "I may feel hopeless now, but my life will probably get better if I work at it and get some help."

  • Learn to feel good about doing a competent job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others.

  • Take a break from stressful situations.  Activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress.

  • Build a network of friends who help you cope in a positive way.

Some teens become overloaded with stress. 


When it happens, inadequately managed stress can lead to anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, or poor coping skills (e.g., drug use, alcohol use, self-injury, eating disorders).  If your teen talks about or shows signs of being overly stressed, a consultation with a qualified mental health professional may be helpful.




Confidence in Parenting

 Irene Lebedies

Family Coach



Ask for the FOCUS Discount!

For a fraction of the cost of sending a child away to a residential program, parents can learn how to handle even the trickiest situations, and take charge of the family.  Parents will confidently resolve the problems AT HOME.  This is what a Family Coach is for: to support the parents, build them up and guide them to be the best parents they can be!




Practical Help, Real Answers

for Adoptive & Foster Parents

The Adoptive & Foster Parent Guide: Help Your Child Heal From Trauma & Loss

Learn more >>




Read All The Books


The Shelter of Each Other:  Rebuilding Our Families

by Mary Pipher

Families today are experiencing a new set of realities.  Working parents are harried, tired, and overextended.  They are unable to protect their children from the enemy within, the inappropriate television they watch for hours, the computer games that keep them from playing outside, the virtual reality they tune in to when they should be learning about the real world.  And so, Pipher says, we have houses without walls.  Compounding this is the fact that our psychological theories don't work anymore, because they were developed decades ago, when families were tightly knit, relatively monolithic institutions.  Pipher offers ideas for simple actions we can all take to help rebuild our families and strengthen our communities.




More Information on Stress


A Teen's Personalized Guide to Managing Stress ~ Causes and effects of stress, Creating your personal stress-management plan, When to turn for help.


Academic Performance Top Cause of Teen Stress ~ Among 13-17 year olds, school is by far the most commonly mentioned source.  Among 18-24 year olds, it’s jobs and financial matters.  In all, fully 85 percent of young people said they felt stress at least sometimes.


Adolescent Stress and Depression ~ Growing up — negotiating a path between independence and reliance on others — is a tough business.  It creates stress, and it can create serious depression for young people ill-equipped to cope, communicate and solve problems.


Does Adolescent Stress Lead to Mood Disorders in Adulthood? ~ There may be a link between the recent rise in the rates of depression and other mood disorders and the increase of daily stress.


The Effects of Divorce on Children (pdf) ~ Divorce is highly stressful for teens.  They experience anger, fear, loneliness, depression, and guilt.  Some feel pushed into adulthood if they must take responsibility for many new chores or care of siblings.  Teens may respond to parents' low energy level and high stress level by trying to take control over the family.  Others feel a loss of parental support.  Teens also may doubt their own ability to get married or stay married.


Family Resiliency:  Building Strengths to Meet Life's Challenges (pdf) ~ Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from stress and crisis.  It is displayed in individuals as optimism, resourcefulness, and determination.  It is seen in families that build caring support systems and solve problems creatively.


Helping Children Understand Divorce ~ Children’s understanding of parental divorce depends on their developmental stage.  It is important for parents to know what thoughts and feelings children of different ages may be having so that they can modify their own behaviors to help children adjust to the divorce.  Teens understand what divorce means but may have difficulty accepting the reality of the changes it brings to their family.


Helping Teens Cope ~ Adolescents may be strongly affected by natural or human-caused disasters such as earthquakes, health emergencies, terrorist attacks or acts of war.  Even indirect exposure to such events through media coverage may challenge their coping skills.


Stress Makes Teen Acne Worse ~ Researchers found teenagers who were under high levels of stress were 23% more likely to have increased acne severity.


Stress's Ill Effects ~ If your teen seems to be sick a lot, don't ignore the symptoms -- they're real.


The Science of Stress ~ Stress can cause hair to fall out, acne to break out, and many other problems. These manifestations of stress can cause even more anxiety.



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