Do you have stressed teenagers?
Having two daughters of my own, one of which is soon to be 15, I’ve plenty of experience at being the parent of “stressed out” girls. Figures show that 31% of girls experience symptoms of anxiety compared to only 13% in boys. This helps explains why my 19-year-old son appears to be that laid back he’s nearly horizontal.
I confess that I thought social media was right up there as being a principle cause but research by the University of Oxford has found that it was responsible for only a tiny fraction of teenagers’ unhappiness. Social media seems to only amplify what is already happening in their lives.
As I’ve already said, some stress and anxiety in our lives is a good thing and is important, it’s what gets us out of bed and motivated. But too much is really bad for us. Take a look at my Stress and Anxiety page to get the full picture of what happens physiologically when stressed and the damage caused when stress goes too far and becomes “chronic”. The definition of chronic being – persistent, long-standing, and long term.
Some anxiety, sadness stress and loss are all part of life and looking for a totally stress free, calm and perfect existence is not going to happen. It is dealing with the natural flow of human emotions that is the key.
So, when dealing with your children, or young adults, showing them how to manage this natural flow of emotions is key. From a parental point of view, if your child is upset and stressed out, this makes us upset and stressed out. We want to make it better. We say “it’ll be ok”, “don’t worry” or we try and make it go away for them by giving them a sick note when they have a test coming up they haven’t prepared for or we comfort them by rushing out and buying something nice, this could range from an ice-cream to an iPhone! This isn’t the answer.
First, we must be calm and steady and help them to realise that whatever the problem is can be managed. So, how do we do this?
1. Show understanding, not simply reassurance Don’t say not to worry, this isn’t addressing the problem and means nothing. Sound like you’re taking their problem seriously and accepting it is important to them. Try saying “Ok, I can see this is a big deal, but we can work through it”.
2. What’s the worst that can happen? So, what is the worst that can happen? and if that happens then what? For example – “my friend has read my snap chat (or whatever) and hasn’t replied!”.
Try saying “Ok, so what will this mean?”
“Well, we’re supposed to be walking to school together and now I’ll have to walk alone”
“Would it be that bad to walk alone?”
“Do you have anyone else you can ask?”
“Well why not try?”
And so, the conversation will continue, try giving them options, make them think and work out a solution themselves. This is teaching how to manage a situation and problem solve. This is a very basic example, but you get the drift. Saying “so what, it’s not the end of the world” dismissively is not going to help because in that moment, for them, it really does feel like the end of the world.
See things from their prospective with empathy.
3. Don’t let them avoid the stressful situation Don’t feel tempted to write a sick note. Avoiding a perceived threat, whilst sorting that immediate problem out doesn’t provide any skills for avoiding another situation. Remember, teaching how to deal not avoid is the key.
4. Teach them social media isn’t always real What someone puts on social media isn’t always the truth and let’s face it, we all know someone who post glowing reports about how great their life is and how wonderful their kids are, job, partner etc but you know for a fact that most of it isn’t true or their life is being viewed through rose tinted glasses. With celebs posts they are looking for interest, followers and intrigue, not necessarily in that order. Teach them to take a step back and understand this. Take what they like from what they see but ignore or be sceptical about other stuff.
5. Explain a little about how stress feels and that it can be a good thing If they realise that a racing heart, sweating etc is normal then it makes it less frightening. So, the stressful situation itself is less frightening. Depending on their age, you could even say that some stress is good and point that it is what gets them out of bed and doing rather than sitting around worrying. A good example would be exam stress i.e. it motivates them to revise when they would otherwise be watching Love Island. Point out that exams are a positive, it shows where they are at academically and proves they are learning and is great training for the future.
6. Get them to take some ti m e out If worrying about exams and cramming all the time, get them to take some time out, relax, take a bath or watch an hour of their favourite program. Make sure they get enough sleep and encourage them to take control of this themselves. Try and teach them that having perfect results, perfect appearance and perfect friends isn’t sustainable and isn’t necessary. We all have days when we know we should be doing stuff, but we don’t. Accept this and be positive. “Ok, today I’m doing something for me but tomorrow I will get up and get stuck in”
Being a parent can be the hardest job in the world, so remember to apply all the above to yourself too and remember, we don't always get it right either.