Stress is the body’s adaptation response to any demand or pressure. These demands or pressures are called stressors. A stressor is an event; coping is what one does as a result of the stressor. No one lives without some degree of stress in their lives. The tricky part is that what stresses one person may, in fact, invigorate another. Teens are not immune to stress; however, they are sometimes ill-equipped to cope with the stressors that they face leading to various manifestations of that stress in their daily lives. Psychologically changes in behavior such as moodiness, irritability, inability to concentrate, crying, changes in eating patterns, changes in sleeping patterns, worrying, mood swings, frustration, nervousness, depression, exhibiting a negative attitude, low productivity, confusion, lack of creativity, lethargy, forgetfulness, and/or boredom may become more prevalent than usual for your adolescent. Socially increased stress levels may be exhibited through isolating his or her self from others, loneliness, decreased general communication skills, lashing out at others, nagging, or simply a refusal to engage verbally.
Some sources of stress for today’s teens clued: school demands; negative thoughts and feelings about themselves; changes in their bodies; exploring his or her own identity; problems with peer group; unsafe living environment; separation/divorce of parents; chronic illness within the family unit; death of a loved one; moving or changing schools; being involved in too many activities; and family financial problems…just to name a few. I’m sure that you and your adolescent could certainly brainstorm a few more without much effort.
When teens react to a stressor in an attempt to minimize its emotional impact, it is considered emotion-focused coping. Emotion-focused coping is a defensive action and usually takes the form of denial, lying/exaggerating, or wishful thinking. It is generally seen as passive rather than active. If instead, your teen reacts to a stressor with an attempt to change the situation, it is considered problem-focused coping. When utilizing coping skills that are problem-focused, adolescents seek additional information or alternative approaches to confront the stressor at hand. As adolescents acquire their toolbox of coping mechanisms and gain experience and maturity, they typically begin to move from emotion-focused coping to problem-focused coping behaviors.
If you notice your teen becoming “stressed out”, these are some of the things you can do to help him or her deal with the stresses of life.
(1) Be vigilant about how the stresses in your teen’s life are affecting his or her health, behavior, thoughts or feelings. If you notice a drastic change in any of these areas, seek medical attention.
(2) Keep the lines of communication open between you and your adolescent. Never turn down a request to chat, no matter how busy you may be. Listen carefully to his or her concerns and remember what may seem trivial to you, may feel like the proverbial end of the world to your teen.
(3) Model stress management skills at home. As parents, we are our adolescent’s first teachers. How we react to our everyday stressors provides the model for how our teens think they should act.
(4) Support involvement in sports or other pro-social activities. Interacting with others is a good way to learn that we are not alone in what we are experiencing. That knowledge is comforting and can alleviate some if not all of certain types of stress. Physical activity is also a good reliever of some forms of stress.
Remember…we all experience stress. How we deal with that stress in our daily lives helps determine how successful we will ultimately be in coping throughout our lives. As our adolescents grow and begin to develop their own identities, helping them fill their coping skills toolbox is something that we, as parents, can contribute.
Cobb, N. (2007). Adolescence: Continuity, change, and diversity. Boston: McGraw Hill.