The team at Evolve Military College prepare young people for joining the armed forces – and that involves both physical and mental preparation. Now more than ever, young people are feeling the effects of stress and in our latest blog, we look at how parents and carers can play an active role in helping teenagers deal with stress.
It’s arguable, given all the pressures they face, there has never been a more challenging time to be an adolescent than in today’s world. And as a parent, finding the right approach to support our children is fraught with potential pitfalls; after all, how could we possibly understand the sorts of issues they have to contend with?!
To begin with, the adolescent brain develops rapidly , which partly explains why teens experience anger, sadness and frustration so intensely. During these tumultuous years, hormones surge, bodies change and adolescents find themselves having to navigate various social and academic hurdles which include managing their relationships, coping with peer rejection and making decisions about their career path.
Add into the mix social media pressures, which just didn’t exist back in the day for the parents of today’s teenagers, as well as concerns over global issues like terrorism and climate change and it’s no surprise teen stress levels have skyrocketed in recent years.
Signs of stress in adolescence:
Remember, teens won’t necessarily verbalise their worries outright by saying; “I’m stressed and this is the reason why.” It’s often their behaviour which indicates how they’re feeling instead. Watch out for:
• Excessive Irritability
We expect teens to be moody by nature but a stressed-out teen is likely to more irritable than usual. A teen who frequently overreacts to small inconveniences may be feeling overwhelmed by life’s challenges.
• Social isolation
Stress may manifest as social isolation. Spending more time in their room or a lack of interest in talking to friends could mean your teen is having difficulties.
• Behavioural Issues
You may see increased behavioural issues ranging from talking back to skipping class. But don’t excuse negative behaviour just because it’s stress-related.
• Difficulty Concentrating
According to Very Well Mind, when teens have a lot going on, it’s hard for them to concentrate on their work. They may become easily distracted in class and might have increased difficulty staying focused while completing assignments.
• Negative Talk
Stressed-out teens tend to use a lot of negative language so claims that; “No one likes me,” or “Nothing ever seems to go right” may not be unusual. Although it’s normal for teens to make these comments from time-to-time, if you’re hearing them too often, it could well be a sign that they’re stressed out.
• Physical Signs
Frequent illness, problems sleeping and loss of appetite or skipping meals may also set alarm bells ringing.
Before we even try to engage our kids in a conversation about what’s stressing them, it’s crucial to consider our approach as this could make or break a successful discussion.
• Ever wondered why adolescents tend either not to turn to us as parents for help or refuse to accept our advice? It may be partly down to the way we typically try to help them.
• When teens are overwhelmed, we often try to connect with their feelings by drawing on our own childhood experiences. So we may say things like, “When I was your age, I had a weekend job, and I still did my coursework and made time for my friends. So I know you can do this, too.'”
• While our attempts to show understanding are sincere, this approach actually often leads to a communication breakdown.
• According to Psychologist Sheryl Ziegler, teenagers are looking for proof that their parents don’t understand them which is why bringing up these examples only confirms that you’re not on the same wavelength. Classic pitfall!
Try a different strategy
• She suggests that parents try relating to their teen’s feelings by saying things like, “When I was your age, I had difficulty with my friends. I felt confused, and upset too.”
• Opening up in this way reminds kids that even if the technology is different, human emotions remain the same across the generation gap. Ziegler believes parents can bond with their kids during this tricky stage by focusing on these similarities.
• Remember too that kids will pick up on how we ourselves react to stress-if we can develop healthy coping mechanisms then they are much more likely to follow our lead.
Developing Problem Solving Skills
• What’s more, when adolescents are distressed, as parents we are inclined to try to solve their problems for them, but often what teens really need is help developing problem-solving skills of their own.
• Teaching adolescents how to develop a specific type of empathy known as cognitive empathy is a recommended approach. It involves trying to understand someone else’s perspective and how they perceive the world, even when our feelings differ from theirs.
And it seems to work; in a Dutch study of teens between the ages of 13 and 18, researchers found that cognitive empathy skills help teens:
• regulate their emotions
• improve their listening skills
• and strengthen their ability to tolerate conflict.
They also concluded that these skills can help kids work through disagreements with their parents more constructively-music to our ears!
So clearly, how we talk to our adolescent children as well as what we actually say, can massively boost confidence in their ability to handle the stress life throws at them.
*Talk to a qualified health professional if you have concerns around how stress is affecting your child. It’s important to rule out any physical health issues and to discuss treatment options. Your family GP may refer your child for counselling.