Most adults look back on their teen years with fond memories of the lack of responsibility, financial commitments and work day grind.
In reality, many young people today are highly scheduled and have little free time at all. From homework and college prep classes, to part-time jobs, to after school activities, music lessons, church service commitments and sports team practices, the majority of teens have already been forced to learn how to juggle a jam-packed calendar.
There’s nothing wrong with allowing your teen to pursue many interests. Unfortunately, a heavy load of daily commitments and demanding time obligations can cause stress in even young teens.
Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But unfortunately, many teens don’t possess the coping mechanisms and organizational skills needed to deal with regular stress, which can take a physical, emotional and social toll on growing teens.
Socially, stress can lead to a higher incidence of substance abuse and lower academic achievement in teens. The emotional impacts are even more concerning, and can be long-lasting and life-shaping – including depression, anxiety and insomnia.
If left unchecked, stress can also have a devastating impact on even young bodies. Stress can contribute to conditions like headaches and stomach ulcers, and exacerbate existing conditions such as asthma, gastrointestinal disorders and mental illness. It can even cause physical discomfort in otherwise healthy people, causing general body aches, difficulty breathing, chest pain, nausea, dizziness and rapid heartbeat.
First, parents must watch for any signs social, emotional and physical signs of stress in their teen – and take them seriously. Never attribute symptoms of distress in your teen to stress and dismiss them. The signs and symptoms of stress can also be caused by other psychological and medical problems. If you’re experiencing any of the warning signs of stress, it’s important to see a doctor for a full evaluation. Your doctor can help you determine whether or not your symptoms are stress-related.
Parents can help their teens deal with stress by arming them with the life skills they need to succeed now, and in the future. Organization is key for people with busy schedules and many interests. Help your teen update her schedule every week, and teach her to track her commitments in her phone calendar, on a traditional wall calendar, or even in a personal notebook or planner. Also, consider introducing a stress-reducing activity you can do together in just a few minutes a day. Yoga, meditation and family prayer are all centering pastimes that are good for the body and the mind. Or, take turns pampering one another with an afternoon of mother-daughter foot massages and at-home facials to de-stress, and reconnect.
If your teen is struggling to keep up the pace, drop something from the schedule and carve out time for entertainment and relaxation. Help her prioritize her interests, and teach her that it’s ok to say, “No!” Many young people have a hard time deciding where they should allocate their time, and take on too many commitments. Some are afraid to disappoint, while others are “joiners” who love activity and just have so many interests, they can’t decide what to try next. Talk to her about her activities and determine what she really enjoys, where her talents lie, and what is most important in her future success. Other factors, such as the activity’s time commitment, might also come into play.
Finally, encourage open communication with your teen. Talk to her about how she is feeling on a regular basis, especially if you feel she might be overwhelmed and overcommitted. Ask specific questions about her workload, her practice schedules and her social events. Make sure there is a healthy balance of family, friends, church and school activities every month, and consciously create gaps in the calendar to refocus and recharge. Kids need time off to stay healthy, and happy.
Compass Rose Academy can help you recognize signs of stress in your teen – and arm you with the skills to cope, and a plan for recovery. To learn more, visit www.compassroseacademy.org.