Ask a high school student why s/he’s so stressed out, and prepare to hear a long list of offenders. But you can help your teen: parents can use their own experience, along with some love and patience, to help their overwhelmed teens cope with stress.
Ask a high school student why s/he’s so stressed out, and prepare to hear a long list of offenders: homework, grades, tests, SATs, friends, parents, the upcoming dance, the way they look, boyfriends, girlfriends, lack of sleep, getting up on time, no free time, college essays. The list goes on. The academic, social, and athletic demands of high school can truly be challenging, and teens certainly need plenty of parental support during these years. However, students often shrug and even look perplexed when asked how some of their stress could be minimized or, better yet, prevented altogether. Parents can be great life coaches during this stage; here's what you can do to help your teen cope with stress.
Teach Your Teen To Plan
First, that planning for tests, assignments, projects, etcetera, can help teens avoid that painfully familiar confluence of events so often associated with ‘night before-ism’: high stress (enjoyed by the whole family), sleep deprivation, poor test or project performance, reduced learning experience, and a grade that fails to reflect their true ability. This grade can, in turn, fuel more stress. This life skill is referred to as time-management. It often eludes teens entirely. It can help show them how they spend much of their time, which is a lesson in itself! We need this skill at all stages of life if we want to be happy, productive, and successful.
Empower Your Teen With Responsibility
Second, the quality of their life can significantly improve when they are empowered to be at the helm of it, and not just a victim of all of those “unfair tests, teachers, coaches, and ridiculous amounts of homework.” We need to gently edge them out of the passenger’s seat and over to the driver’s seat of life. Then, the responsibility begins to shift toward them and away from blaming others for their performance. This is a life skill but can take time to hone! Parental patience is a real virtue here.
Teach Teens Positive Coping Skills
In defense of teens, their dearth of planning skills lies largely in the fact that the prefrontal cortex, the CEO of the brain, responsible for judgment, decision-making, critical thinking and, yes, planning, is not fully developed until age 25(!). This helps explains their need for guidance in these areas.
However, despite the best-laid plans, life presents stresses that we cannot foresee, or prevent. To survive these, teens as well as adults, need to have positive coping mechanisms in place. Yes, more life skills! Sadly, we all know adults who’ve missed this vital lesson. These mechanisms are both behaviors and attitudes that allow for resiliency in the face of adversity. We can encourage teens to choose from a wide range of activities such as playing an instrument, journal writing, art, dance, shooting hoops, going for a run, or perhaps going to a special place—physically or mentally—that helps them escape or temporarily distance themselves while they cope with the stress. This can help them emerge from a tough situation having made lemonade from life’s lemons.
The sooner teens discover what works best for them, the better off they will be, not only during these tumultuous years, but throughout life. Stress can significantly compromise our ability to concentrate, make sound decisions (even after age 25), work, sleep, eat healthfully, and even fight infections. When parents are supportive and offer guidance in time management, encourage their teens to take responsibility for themselves and to develop positive coping strategies, they go a long way in strengthening them for what lies ahead.
Jane Golub, R.N., is a registered nurse and an educator based on Long Island. She conducts workshops for parents, educators, administrators, and students of all ages on issues of social and emotional health, including adolescent risk behavior prevention and teen counseling.