By Dolores Smyth, Crosswalk.com
Dolores Smyth writes about her life’s passions — faith and family. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work on Twitter @LolaWordSmyth.
Stress: When It’s Normal and When It Signals an Underlying Problem
Stress is a normal response to a situation that makes us feel pressured in some way. Stress can be a good thing when it sharpens our teens’ focus and motivates them to do their best during a test, game, or other challenging situation. Once the challenge is over, stress levels normally subside until the next challenge arises.
But what happens when the stress doesn’t ease up or, worse, increases? Stress becomes problematic when our teens face persistent challenges without enough downtime between stressors.
Without appropriate parental guidance, stress left uncheckedcan affect a teen’s mental health by causing anxiety and/or depression. Persistent stress can also impact a teen’s physical health by bringing on such ailments as headaches, stomachaches, high blood pressure, and chest pain.
The Warning Signs of Stress
Symptoms of stress can often mimic stereotypical teenage behavior. Because of this, it’s vital for parents to note the frequency of the following signs of teen stress:
- Physical changes: Stressed out teens are more likely to get sick and complain of headaches and stomachaches
- Emotional changes: Overwhelmed teens increasingly appear anxious, agitated, and/or depressed
- Behavioral changes: Excessively stressed teens may exhibit changes in their sleeping, eating, or socializing habits
- Cognitive changes: Stress can also cause a marked decrease in concentration, memory, and attention to detail
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6 Sources of Stress That May Be Overwhelming Your Teen
Sources of teen stress aren’t always easy for parents to spot, especially because the world we lived in as teenagers was vastly different from the fast-paced world our teens live in today. Here are 6 things that you may not even realize are overwhelming your teen.
1. Unreasonable Academic Pressure
School is the most commonly reported source of stress for teens. While parents may think that the only pressure in school is to get good grades, teens undergo additional pressure to lay the groundwork for getting into a top college, have a major picked out, and know what field of work they’d like to pursue, often years before the teen even fills out a college application. That’s a lot to expect our teens to have figured out during a time when they don’t even have their own identities pinned down.
Stress-management tip: Although grades are important, parents should explain to their teens that the happiest, most successful adults are those who are well-rounded in all areas, not just academics. Help your teen become more well-rounded by having her take part in extracurricular activities that boost her confidence and social skills. Or, sign your teen up for a mentoring program to help him identify his interests so he can make informed decisions about his future.
2. Peer Pressure
Aside from pressure to stand out academically, teens have to navigate waves of peer pressure—pressure to act a certain way, dress a certain way, or do a certain thing. This pressure to appease peers can take a mental and physical toll on teens who are already wading through a swaying sense of self, hormones, and worries about their future.
Stress-management tip: Warn teens about the risks of succumbing to negative peer pressure and reassure them that their self-worth isn’t determined by the opinions of others. Empower teens to set healthy boundaries and say “no” to people and/or situations that trigger excessive stress.
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3. Bad Friendships and Romantic Relationships
Many teenagers tie their emotional well-being to the status of their friendships and their current romantic state. Some of these relationships can take up an unreasonable amount of a teen’s time or be harmful in ways that parents may not realize. Importantly, parents should be aware that teen dating violence affects about 10% of teenstoday.
Teens may become overwhelmed by having to manage passive-aggressive friendships and/or other unhealthy relationships. The stress of these negative associations can be detrimental to a teen’s mental, emotional, and physical health.
Stress-management tip: Teach teens how to identify and effectively distance themselves from destructive relationships. Explain what qualities to look for in future friends and significant others.
4. The Fear of Failure
From failing a school exam to failing their driver’s test to being turned down to prom, some teens develop a crippling fear of failure. Teens may fear that their failure will be noticed and ridiculed by “friends,” or they may fear disappointing a parent with unreasonable expectations, or our teens’ fear of failure may be self-imposed. Significantly, failure that becomes associated with negative feelings can cause teens to develop a fear of trying, which can stifle their development and likelihood of success.
Stress-management tip: Teach your teen to view failure not as a defeat, but as a routine part of learning and honing expectations. Doing this teaches teens to focus on the importance of process over result, and gives your teen the chance to pick himself up, reevaluate the goal, and try again.
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5. Social Media
Our teens can probably not imagine a time when people had to look up information at local libraries or in reference guides, or when people were limited to having discussions face-to-face or over telephones attached to phone jacks. The technology boom has certainly made life easier in some respects, but it has brought about an onslaught of new concerns in terms of cyberbullying, the mass invasion of privacy, and the unhealthy tendency of our teens to compare themselves to what they see and read online.
In fact, research shows that teenagers who spend more time on smartphones and social media and less time interacting with others face-to-face are more likely to be depressed and experience heightened tension. Moreover, social media posts that graphically or inaccurately highlight tragic events like school shootings or natural disasters may frighten teens into constantly worrying about their safety.
Stress-management tip: Encourage your teen to unplug more often and experience the health benefits of spending time outdoors, exercising, cultivating authentic relationships face-to-face, and getting adequate rest. Also, educate your teen as to the possibility of online information being false or exaggerated.
6. Parental Expectations
Parental expectations are often unrealistic. Many parents expect their teens to get good grades, play sports, develop a useful skill or ability, and get a job to help contribute financially or learn money management. This overscheduling of our teens’ time—even when well-intentioned—can result in teen burnout and feelings of helplessness over their own schedule.
Parents are wise to keep in mind that a well-rounded, socially-adept child is much more likely to lead a healthy, happy life than a stressed-out overachiever who aces tests and speaks three languages at the expense of acquiring social skills.
Stress-management tip: Assess your own expectations of your teen and carefully distinguish between healthy encouragement and unrealistic pressuring. Take note that if you routinely hold your teen up to unattainable standards, you may be inflicting self-worth issues in your child that can plague him for a life-time.
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