Helping children handle stress in a healthy way
Here we are at the end of another summer. Some look forward with excitement to the beginning of a new school year, while others (adults and children alike) end the summer with apprehension. As a former middle and high school teacher of 20 years, I can attest that today’s tweens and teens face many more wellness hurdles than past generations, especially emotionally and mentally. We want our children to be healthy in all areas of their lives. When I asked my 14-year old daughter what parents need to know to better support their children, she said, “Parents need to stop thinking they understand (what it’s like to be a teen today)”. How often do we act like we know what our children are experiencing, brushing off their stress or frustration as childish or insignificant when compared with our own?
Young people today face pressure from all sides, pressure they place on themselves and pressure they feel from others. This pressure can take many forms, such as the pressure to perform (athletically, musically or academically), to fit in, to be perfect, avoid disappointing others, etc. Some teens bear responsibility to help support their family or care for siblings while parents work. Children also internalize family stress from relationship struggles, finances or health challenges, which only adds to their load. In past generations, outside pressures and peer drama were reserved for school hours, while students now face constant 24/7 bombardment by social media in all forms. Media messages include: You’re not enough, Everyone’s lives are better than yours, You need to look, act and behave a certain way to fit in, and You’re old enough to experiment with substances or relationships formerly reserved for adults.
Unfortunately, just when they need it most, kids lack the time or place to “unwind”, to relax and just be kids. Society as a whole is running at a breakneck pace, constantly in stress mode. I’ve seen more teens suffering from anxiety and depression in the last 5 years than my previous teaching years combined. Many teens feel they have to keep these feelings inside, creating a fake façade. They may turn to peers for support, peers that may not know how to help, or may offer detrimental advice. How can we help our children find a healthy escape from the pressures they feel? Here are a few tips:
Assume you don’t understand. Approach your teen with the attitude of love and curiosity….with the desire to understand what they are going through. Be sympathetic instead of minimizing their concerns. Their anxiety might seem insignificant compared with what you are facing, but to them, they can be monumental. Refrain from ‘jumping in’ with advice or brushing off their worries or stresses as “nothing”. Open your heart and mind to see the situation from their perspective.
Model healthy stress management. Your child knows you, and knows that you experience stress…talk about it together. Discuss healthy ways to manage stress, disappointment or frustration, such as taking a break, doing something you enjoy, talking about it or even letting go of something. If you struggle in this area, consult a licensed therapist or a certified coach. The sooner we help our kids realize that stress is a normal part of today’s world, the sooner we can help them find healthy ways to manage it.
Be aware of your words and actions. Often, parents don’t realize simple ways that they put additional pressure on their teen. What you may look at as a harmless comment may be one of many stressors in your teen’s day. Show them how important they are by regularly putting down your phone or stepping away from your device and taking time to talk and listen to them.
Rather than assume you know how your children are feeling about the new school year or other life circumstances, take time to find out. Overall, make communication and understanding a priority. This way, we can help our teens be healthier in all aspects of their lives.
Check out our Southern Utah Health & Wellness Directory at www.stghealth.com.