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Teens juggle many things: fitting in at school, managing classwork and clubs, the daily tidal wave of hormones, and the ups and downs of high school romances. Military teens add frequent moves and deployment to their list. A loving parent helps her or his teen to manage stress in healthy ways. Here are some tips for recognizing stress in your teen and ways to help your teen handle it effectively.
Teens and stress: Recognizing the signs
Learn the signs of stress and keep an eye out. Your teen likely won’t come straight out and tell you he or she is stressed. Everybody reacts to stress differently, but here are some general signs to look out for:
- Headaches, backaches, stomachaches and muscle tension
- Skipping meals or overeating
- Smoking, drinking alcohol or using drugs
- Irritability, anxiety, frequent crying
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Withdrawing from friends or family
- A change in peer group
- Lack of energy or excessive boredom
- Slipping grades
Helping your teen manage stress
Here are some strategies to help your teen deal with stress effectively:
- Listen without judgment. If you want your teen to feel comfortable coming to you, make sure they know you’re there to listen, not to judge. Sometimes all they need is somebody to talk with so they can think the problem through.
- Tell them your own experiences. A great way to let your teen know that stress is totally conquerable is to share a similar story from when you were a stressed-out teenager and how you dealt with it at the time.
- Recognize avoidance activities. Hanging out with friends, playing video games, and binging on Netflix can all be healthy distractions to make stress more manageable. But still, you can’t let your teen rely on those things to avoid the real problems.
- Talk about the role of negative thinking in stress. One of the first thoughts that may come to mind for a stressed teenager is “my life is over.” That feeds other negative thoughts, and down the rabbit hole he or she goes. With a little awareness that this is happening, your teen can catch himself or herself, and begin to think more positively.
- Take the situation seriously. It’s really easy to brush off teenage worries as trivial and silly, but these are real concerns for your teen. They are causing real stress, and you should treat them with respect.
- Set realistic expectations. We want the best for our kids. We’re always pushing them to do better and do more. However, pushing them to bring home straight As may burden them with too much stress. Encourage them to do better, but don’t push them so hard they burn out.
- Tackle stress at the source. No doubt: the absolute best way to deal with stress is to face it head-on. If your teen is stressed about a test, for instance, encourage him or her to get extra help with studying to feel more prepared and confident. You can either sit around and stress, or you can do something and feel great.
Getting help managing your teenager’s stress
Stress is a pretty normal part of adolescence and life in general. But sometimes it’s a little more serious than that. It can become chronic or lead to emotional problems if not addressed soon enough. If you’re concerned about your teenager’s emotional or physical well-being, you can get help immediately from a professional such as your pediatrician or a counselor. You can also get free confidential, non-medical counseling through Military OneSource or military and family life counselors:
- Call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 and ask about the Building Healthy Relationships specialty consultation. OCONUS/International? View calling options.
- Contact military and family life counselors. Find them through your installation’s Military and Family Support Center.
- Get support by talking with your unit’s chaplain. Find contact information locally through your Military and Family Support Center.
- If you feel as though your teen is in crisis, you can contact the Military Crisis Line 24 hours a day at 988 and Press 1. You can also start a conversation via online chat or text 838255.
You can’t protect your kids from stress or manage it for them, but you can help them learn ways to handle it. Your teenager needs your help identifying sources of stress and figuring out how to reduce it. If you learn to develop a subtle, nonjudgmental and genuine approach, you can be one of your teen’s most important stress-management resources.
Communication Training for You and Your Teen
Work on your parenting communication skills with the Building Healthy Relationships specialty consultation and be ready for conversations later.