Stressed out teens: 4 tips on how to help
Today’s teens face more pressures than any generation before them. In addition to increasing academic demands, navigating physical changes and body image concerns, teenagers in the digital age are also expected to be “on” 24/7. In fact, many teens sleep with their smartphones right at their bedsides. That constant accessibility is not only addictive, it can also lead to depression.
The physical hit
While some amount of stress is “normal,” chronic stress can have devastating consequences, especially for teenagers. They may not have the tools to manage stress in a positive way, choosing instead to engage in destructive behaviors or acts of self-sabotage. In fact, research suggests this age group is especially vulnerable to suicide.
The stress antidote
How can you help your child minimize overwhelm and maximize joy? Follow these four strategies:
Establish boundaries. While smartphones aren’t necessarily the enemy, they can be a vehicle for creating or exacerbating stress. Teens might compulsively check to see if anyone has commented on their social media posts. They might feel a need to respond to texts or other messages immediately. They may even feel depressed as they measure themselves and their lives against their peers’ (as seen online).
To minimize the hit, establish boundaries around usage (maybe 45 minutes per day). Set up firewalls or ban access to specific apps or sites. And make sure kids check in their phones into a central location — try the kitchen — an hour before bedtime and leave them there all night.
Encourage good sleep habits. Whether you’re an adult or a kid, insufficient shut-eye can stress you out. To add insult to injury, teens’ biological clocks are different than adults.’ They’re naturally inclined to go to bed later and rise later, but they still need eight to nine hours of sleep every night. Unfortunately, academic obligations require teens to wake at a reasonable hour – at least during the week.
To help teens get the sleep they need, make sure they ditch caffeinated drinks after noon, remove all screens from their bedrooms and encourage them to engage in a soothing activity (that doesn’t involve studying or intellectual heavy lifting) for 10 to 20 minutes before bed.
Open the lines of communication. The teen years are prime time for experimentation – and kids tend to experiment with negative behaviors when they’re stressed. So while it’s never a good idea to helicopter around a teenager, it’s always good to ask questions.
Use social media or even news stories to ask about specific behaviors like vaping, drinking, smoking and sexting. And don’t be afraid to show up for your kids: Sometimes they don’t even realize how much they need you until you knock on their bedroom door. Most important, leave the door open for discussion and explain to your child that you’re always available to field their questions and brainstorm solutions.
Teach stress-management techniques. Studies show teens are not doing enough to manage their stress levels – and more than 1 in 10 say they don’t set aside time to reduce stress. The best way to help your teen manage their stress levels is to model healthy coping strategies yourself. Make time to exercise, eat healthy, go to bed and wake up at regular times, and carve out time to meditate and practice mindfulness. As you think about your teens smartphone use, consider taking a digital detox yourself to set a good example.
You can’t prevent your child from experiencing stress, but you can minimize its toll on their life and their health. Make time to connect with your kid on a daily basis. Run errands together, keep an open door and invite them to spend time with you. And monitor their activities, friendships and device use. No matter how you keep tabs on your child, it’s critical to catch concerns early before they spin out of control.
While it can be difficult to distinguish between normal teenage behavior and stress, anxiety or depression, the following behaviors warrant further investigation:
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Frequent emotional outbursts
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Changes in eating behaviors
- Physical symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, dizziness and headaches
If you’re concerned that your child may be stressed or depressed, check in with a healthcare provider. To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Stacy Leatherwood Cannon is a pediatrician and sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in Detroit and Sterling Heights. She also serves as a physician champion for childhood wellness initiatives at Henry Ford Health System and regularly contributes to the ParentWell section of the Henry Ford LiveWell health and wellness blog. For health and wellness advice delivered right to your inbox every week, subscribe today.