Teen stress levels are at an all-time high. The increasingly competitive college admission process allows for very little downtime. When high-school kids do get a break, they tend to spend it on their phones or tablets, both of which have been shown to further increase stress and anxiety. Factor in traditional teen challenges like puberty and peer pressure and you’ve got a teenage stress tornado.
While some stress is necessary for teens to learn resilience, excessive stress is harmful both in the short term (e.g., inability to focus) and long term (e.g., increased risk of adult depression). Teaching your teen to manage their stress will increase their daily happiness and equip them with tools to navigate the bigger stressors that come with adulthood.
Here are four ways to get your teen’s stress down and perspective up.
Model daily movement
Despite near-constant advances in Western medicine, movement is still one of the best tools for reducing stress. Even if your teen seems uninterested in being active, just modeling an active lifestyle has an impact. A Boston University study published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that active parents have a positive ripple effect on their kids. Not only do children notice when mom and dad work out, but they also notice how mom and dad’s mood improves after doing so.
Keep an open dialogue
Stress is easier for teens to manage when they can voice their emotions. Be their sounding board. Share your own emotions—both the ones you felt as a teen and the ones you feel now as an adult—and remain unruffled by uncomfortable topics. If you seem unafraid to talk about the tough stuff, your teen will be more likely to come to you when the tough stuff hits.
Since teens often reject parental involvement, this is easier said than done. The more you pepper teens with questions, the more they pull away. Speak less and listen more. When they do share, be honest with your own thoughts but don’t downplay their disappointments and solve their problems. Instead, validate their feelings by echoing their remark back: “That does sound tough.”
Many teens report feeling like they do not have enough time in the day to complete all their responsibilities. While getting them out from behind the desk or their phone may be tough, encourage breaks, even if only for a few minutes. Suggest some relaxation techniques, like simple deep breathing or a guided meditation.
If you notice that your teen is headed down a self-limiting path, happiness expert Petra Kolber suggests teaching them to STOP: Stand up, Take a walk, Observe their surroundings, Pick a positive thought.
Instill healthy sleep habits
A National Sleep Foundation poll found that 87 percent of high-school students are not getting the American Association of Pediatrics recommended 9.25 hours of sleep every night. This results in not just general stress but also the inability to concentrate, poor grades, drowsy-driving incidents, anxiety and depression.
Due to changes in circadian rhythms that hit with puberty, teens often have trouble falling asleep before 11 p.m. Because of this, the AAP recommends school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later. However, most middle and high schools still start before 8 a.m. If this is the case at your child’s school, consider asking the school board to rethink the schedule.
In the meantime, sleep specialist Dr. William Christopher Winter recommends getting your teen to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day. A nightly ritual, like reading a book or watching a show, can help. Try to discourage TV, smartphones or tablets in the actual bedroom, however, since the blue light restricts melatonin production.
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