As a mother of three fabulous boys aged 19 years, 12 years and 10 years of age I recently felt inspired to invite the lovely Vanessa (who writes a parenting blog from a teens perspective) to share with us her expertise in relation to teenage stress.
I just know you will love her insightful article. Thank you, Vanessa. You rock.
Guest Post By Vanessa Van Petten: Teen Author
” How can my teenager be so stressed…..he/she doesn’t have any teenagers!”
Its hard to understand how teens can be so stressed compared to many adult issues like paying bills, caring for elderly parents, financial security and jobs, but for teens their issues also seem just as serious, permanent and intimidating. This concept leads me to my first piece of advice for helping your teen be less stressed out!
Nothing is relative:
You know when you are talking to a friend about something you are stressed out about—like a busy workday and as soon as your finished talking (or even before that), your friend is like, ‘well my day was even worse than that!’ Then they go on to tell you how their day was more stressful. It feels like they are belittling your bad day and it doesn’t make you feel any better that you both had bad days. This is the same for teens but to a much larger extent. When we are venting to you or talking to you, and then parents say things like: “You don’t even have to worry about paying your bills!” or “Well, everyone else seems to be doing fine!” or “Your sister did not have trouble with that ___.” This not only makes teens feel alienated from you, but it makes them feel bad about having those feelings.
Tip: When your teen starts talking to you, let them know you are listening by repeating their points and empathizing with them. It is a common misconception that re-emphasizing a bad feeling encourages it. I think with teens it is the opposite, when my mom said things like “oh, that’s horrible and so unfair” it made me feel heard and understood so that I could then work it out. When she said, ‘oh its not that big of a deal, you will forget about it tomorrow” I was mad that she didn’t understand my plight and would continue to fester on the issue, unable to move on.
Somehow, when I got in a fight with friends or a boyfriend when I was in high school it literally felt like the end of my world. I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. When I talk to teens about issues they are having, to them there is nothing else going on, it will never change and there is no tomorrow. Ok, I am over-emphasizing the point a bit, but you get it, teenagers get so stressed out because it is more difficult to think long term and everything feels like it will last forever.
Tip: Avoid the temptation to try to put their issues in context by saying that it won’t mater in ten years, or so-and-so will get over it eventually, these kinds of comments only make teens feel more alone in their feelings of frustration. What can be helpful is pointing out similar situations they had in the past or that you had in the past where something overwhelming, unexpectedly got better quickly. This way you are not belittling their feelings or ‘correcting’ their feelings, but just brining up a relevant situation that has a better memory or ending.
“It was the worst day at school!” “This is the most homework I have ever had” “She is my best friend in the world!” Any of these sound familiar? I call this the super superlative syndrome. There is very little grey area in the teen mind and similar to the idea of permanence above, be aware of the use of superlatives in your teens lingo. This causes a lot of stress for teens because when they have a lot of homework, a big soccer game or a dance this weekend, it all feels like a very big deal…in fact the biggest deal, ever, ever, ever!
Tip: I think it is important to explain this to your teen in a calm moment. I always explain it to the teens I work with because I think it is important for them to realize that not only do they do it themselves, but other teens do it too when describing situations. Teens tend to rile each other up with superlative sentences. Whenever I explain it to teens they always have a million stories (get it I overemphasized) about their friend who over-exaggerated the test/date/friendship/game. In fact, usually they are able to laugh at themselves and be more aware of the ‘degree’ or their stressful situations after I explain this principle.
Time and Place:
We all have our moments of the day that are ‘trigger zones,’ my trigger zone is always right when I get home and I am trying to unload the car and de-stress from traffic (I live in Los Angeles). Everyone who knows me, knows to just stay out of my way at this point. Talk to your teen and figure out when they need space time versus support time. Maybe in the car on the way home you should just listen to music to let them unwind and then after dinner, talk to them about their day.
Tip: This is hard to explain, but at school we are running around all day, doing ‘school stuff’ when we finally get home, its like we actually get a chance to breathe and check-in with ourselves. This is usually when the verbal vomit stream comes out of all the feelings from the day. Let your teen have these moments, then later, you can maybe go in their room, rub their back, bring them a snack and talk to them. Usually, the unwinding part of the day is not the same part of the day that is best for bonding. Take this into consideration before trying to ‘solve’ their problems as they tell them to you.
Overall, teens do have more and more to stress out about with college pressure, dating at really young ages, pressure to have sex and do drugs at parties and even at school. There are a lot of similarities to when you were a teen, but remember they are facing different issues. If you show them you love and support them no matter what, this can be the best relief of pressure for a child.
Vanessa Van Petten is the teen author of the parenting book “You’re Grounded!” She writes a parenting blog called from a teen’s perspective to help parents understand what is actually going on in the mind of kid’s today. Please do consider subscribing and check out one of her most popular articles: What Happy People Have: 6 Ingredients to Friction Free Families and she also does a popular weekly parent news summary from across the web for busy parents.
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