As an adult, we look back on our teen years and remember a care-free time in our life. Of course, some teens must work and, as parents, we expect them to keep up with their school work. But, for the most part, there are no major bills to be paid such as a mortgage payment, the electric bill or food for the family.
Many teens are expected to do chores around the house but aren't responsible for the upkeep of your home, such as taking care of a leaky roof. As the responsibilities of being an adult overwhelm us, we yearn for the teen years, when our major concern was whether we had plans for the weekend.
But being a teen is hard, especially in today's society. The pressure to perform, high expectations from parents, teachers and even the teens themselves, the rising demands of school and family difficulties such as divorce or death all take a toll on a teen's well being and add stress to their everyday lives. When stress is not managed properly, teens may be at risk for developing an anxiety disorder, substance abuse or physical illness.
The Fight-or-Flight Response
We all experience stress and sometimes it serves a purpose in our life. For example, being nervous before a test can help you stay alert and focused. When faced with a dangerous situation, our fight-or-flight response kicks in; our heart beats faster, our blood pressure increases, our senses become sharper and our adrenalin pumps us up to meet the danger. We all benefit from this type of response - in moderation. When walking down the street and faced with a growling dog, it can help us focus and pay attention to what is going on to manage the situation, when faced with a "pop quiz" it can help us concentrate and remember what we have learned.
Moderate stress is good, but when our fight-or-flight response is activated over and over, it can cause physical problems. Some experts believe that those with anxiety have a overactive fight-or-flight response and it doesn't turn off once the danger has passed. In other words, those with anxiety stay in high alert, finding danger in situations where there isn't any. While we want our teens to live a stress-free life, that really shouldn't be the goal. Instead, we need to help our teens learn to manage the occasional stress and use it to their benefit.
Managing stress begins with the little things. Eating right, getting a good night's sleep and exercising on a daily basis all help you deal with stress more positively. Some other ways parents can help teens:
Monitor the intake of caffeine. Coffee, tea and colas all contain caffeine, which can increase feelings of nervousness and agitation. Limiting daily consumption of caffeine can help reduce feelings of anxiety.
Teach your teen relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga or meditation. These techniques, when used on a daily basis, help reduce overall feelings of anxiety and can also help when faced with a stressful situation.
Work on assertiveness training. Arming your teen with the ability to stand up for their needs, without causing the other person to become defensive or angry, helps make situations that could potentially become stressful to end satisfactorily for all involved. Being able to state, "Please don't yell at me," or "I feel angry when you treat me that way," can help your teen feel more in control and reduce escalation of a stressful situation.
Talk about ways your teen can take a break from a stressful situation. This may be taking a walk or removing himself temporarily from a situation, listening to music or participating in a relaxing hobby for a little while.
Have your teen make a list of situations which cause him stress. Review each situation and talk about ways your teen can better react or be prepared. For example, if giving an oral report in class causes anxiety, spend time practicing at home or enroll him in a speech class to give him more confidence.
Focus on your teen's strengths. Sometimes we feel stressed because we aren't very good at a certain activity. Remind your teen that everyone has specific strengths and can't be good at everything. Let him know you are proud of him, no matter what.
Ask your teen to write down how he talks to himself. For example, when nervous about an upcoming test, does he tell himself he will fail or that he is a failure? Positive self-talk can greatly reduce stress and anxiety. Have your teen replace negative thoughts with a positive ones.
These stress reducing techniques were adapted from "Helping Teenagers With Stress" from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
For more information:
"Can Stress Actually Be Good for You?" 2006, Dec 20, Jane Weaver, NBCNews.com
"Helping Teenagers with Stress," 2005, May, Staff Writer, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry