Do you have a stressed-out teenager? You aren’t alone! A recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that fewer than half of teenagers today would rate their mental health as “excellent” or “very good.” And it doesn’t seem to get better as they get older; more than 90 percent of today’s 18 to 21-year-olds experienced at least one physical or emotional symptom due to stress in the past month (this is very high compared to other adults).
Today’s teenagers aren’t just stressed about what’s going on at home or at school or in their own lives—they’re also stressed about the world they are living in. For example, three quarters say they are stressed about mass and school shootings. More than half feel stressed about the current political climate, and more than two-thirds feel significantly stressed about our nation’s future. About 60 percent are worried about the rise in suicide rates, about climate change and global warming, and about the separation and deportation of immigrant and migrant families. The list goes on and on and on.
It’s no wonder that our teens are suffering. Fortunately, there is a lot that we can do for our stressed-out teens. Here are seven steps for helping teens cope from my free eBook, How to Help Teens Deal with Stress (download the full guide here).
Step 1: Confront the Stress.
The most important thing to do when a teen is anxious or suffering is to help them confront the stressor or worry rather than avoid it. Why? Because avoidance fuels anxiety.
Step 2: Ask them to describe the difficult circumstance.
Have them simply give you the facts of the hard place they are in, and in response, show genuine curiosity about their experience. You are not trying to take away their pain. The goal is for them to feel seen and heard by you.
Step 3. Help them identify how they are feeling in response to the circumstance.
This is the “name it to tame it” technique, and research shows that when we label our emotions, we are better able to integrate them.
Step 4. Ask them about the source of their stress.
We can encourage them to look for what might be new or changing in their lives. Similarly, we can help them look for sources of unpredictability or to identify ways that they feel threatened. And we can ask them about the things in their lives that feel out of their control.
Step 5. Encourage them to classify their type of stress.
In addition to searching for sources of stress, it can be helpful for teens to classify the particular strain of stress they are experiencing. Is it related to a negative life event? Is it the result of cumulative day-to-day difficulties that are beyond the teen’s control? Or is it a daily hassle?
Step 6. Help them see that their stress can be helpful.
Stress is healthy and helpful when it creates enough tension and strain to foster growth.
Step 7. Practice acceptance.
When we accept the reality of a difficult or scary situation and our limited control, it allows our kids to do the same. Importantly, acceptance also frees them up to move forward, rather than remaining paralyzed by difficulty and fear.