Is Your Teen Under Too Much Stress?

Today’s teens are pretty stressed out. Between keeping up with school, going to sports practice or rehearsal for the school play, holding down a part-time job, meeting their household responsibilities, and trying to make time for friends, adolescents today are a busy bunch. While there are many parents who try to take some of the edge off by not assigning chores or not asking their teens to get a job, many kids feel like the pressure is on, regardless of their specific situation. Do you ever wonder whether your teen is under too much stress, either internal or dictated by their circumstances? Read on to find out some of the warning signs that your teen might be too stressed out, as well as advice for what to do if there seems to be a problem.


Signs That Your Teen Has Taken on Too Much

It’s no myth that teens are busy and it’s normal for yours to be quite active. But if you feel like you never see your teenager, it could be a sign that your teen is under too much stress. However, it could be because of various other reasons, such as being busy socializing, holing up in their bedroom with a video game system, or just hanging out. If you notice that you’re not seeing your teen as often as you used to, talk to your him or her and find out what they’re doing when they’re not home. Also, ask how long they are spending on homework and studying. This should give you an idea on whether or not they are under too much stress.

If your child is staying up too late because that’s legitimately when they can get their homework done, something needs to change. Although teens do naturally like to stay up late due to changes in their circadian rhythms, it’s important that they be able to get the sleep that they need. It’s possible that they need to cut down on their work hours at their job or that they simply need better time management skills. Also, it’s important to listen to your adolescent: If he or she says frequently that they have too much to do or no time, it could be a cry for help. Young people don’t always know when to say no to taking on more obligations.


The Dangers of Too Much Stress

If left unchecked, too much stress can cause your teen to simply shut down. They might become too anxious and might even develop an anxiety disorder. If your teen is already prone to depression or if they have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), too much stress can make things worse. Your teen might also be more prone to having a poor reaction to stress if they are on the autism spectrum or have Asperger syndrome.

Eventually, your child’s physical health might even be impacted by having too much going on. Teens are notorious for not eating well or getting enough sleep, and these self-destructive behaviors can get worse during times of stress. If they’re not eating or sleeping well, this can lead to conditions that are usually found in older adults, like high blood pressure or even type 2 diabetes.


Coping With Stress

Stress is not always a negative thing. For example, mild stress can make your teen try harder at school or challenge him- or herself on the field. You shouldn’t rush in to try to solve stress in your teenager’s life. Learning to cope with stress is part of growing up and having the skills needed to do so will serve him or her well in life.

Encourage your teen to find ways to cope with stress that work for him or her. Here are a few examples of healthy ways to cope with stress:

  • Exercise. Invite your son or daughter to join you for an evening walk or offer to add them to your gym membership.
  • Spend time with a pet.
  • Pursuing a relaxing, non-competitive hobby.
  • Spend time with friends in an unstructured way. For example, sports practice is a great way to meet friends, but sometimes the teens should just hang out at the mall or catch a movie.


How to Help Your Teen Prioritize

Sometimes, stress is a matter of not knowing how to make priorities and keep them straight. Learning good time management skills is one way that teens can stick to their priorities. Another way is to learn when it’s a good time to say no — to another AP class, to more hours at work, or to joining another club.

Teaching your teen to get started on things early and not to give way to procrastination is one good way to help them manage stress and poor time management. Many teenagers (and adults, too!) underestimate the time it will take to do a particular task, so they don’t leave enough time in their schedule to accomplish what they need to do. This leads to stress that could have been avoided. Get your teen a planner and encourage them to use it. Also, suggest that they write down how long common tasks take them, so if they get caught off-guard, they can make a more realistic time estimate the next time.


When to Seek Help for Your Teen’s Stress

There are some times when it’s appropriate to seek professional help for your teen. If he or she is not amenable to taking your suggestions when it comes to cutting back on activities or improving time management, there might be something else going on. If you notice the symptoms of depression or anxiety, it is time to step in. The same would apply if your teen is showing signs of aggression, physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches, or if you see the signs of suicidal ideation. All of these are serious enough that they warrant a visit to your teen’s doctor, who can refer them to a counselor if appropriate. (If you think your teen is in immediate danger, don’t be afraid to go to the nearest emergency room.)

Parenting teens is not easy, and it can be hard to determine when stress is age-appropriate or when it’s getting to be too much stress. Watch for signs of distress, and talk to your teen about what he or she is feeling. From there, make your best effort to support your teenager or make the decision to seek further help.