Stress and the Teenage Years

Brooks Michael's picture
By Brooks Michael on March 1, 2019

Teens today are often as busy as any ambitious adult. Up at dawn, they march through classes seeking outstanding grades, tackle multiple sports and hobbies after school, and pitch in with chores at home when they're not hunched over homework.

In between, they try to keep up with friends, avoid bullying, make sense of their crushes—and decide what they’re meant to do with their lives.

No pressure, right?

We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think teens struggle with stress, just like adults, but with fewer resources to help them cope.

Too Many Stresses
A survey on stress in the United States by the American Psychological Association found that teen stress rivals that of adults.

"During the school year, teens say their stress level is higher than levels reported by adults in the past month,” the APA reported.

Based on my own work with teens, I know that many suffer from academic stress at school and worry about being accepted at a good college.

They also feel stress over:

  • Fitting in with their peers
  • Family problems such as divorce, drug use or job loss
  • Terrorist acts in this country and abroad
  • Life changes like a move or illness in the family
  • Family finances

Signs of Stress
How does stress manifest itself in teens? Your teen may be feeling overwhelmed if he or she is:

  • Angry or irritable
  • Anxious
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Depressed
  • Skipping meals
  • Overeating
  • Getting stomach aches or headaches
  • Forgetful
  • Avoiding normal activities
  • Complaining of too much to do
  • Too busy for social activities
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Lacking motivation

Of course it’s impossible for anyone to live stress-free—and some stress can be good for us. But too much stress can harm a teen’s development, relationships and learning ability.

How Can You Help?
Is your child having trouble with friends? Parents need to know that their children at some point are going to encounter this problem. It's part of growing up. 

Teaching (and modeling) how to communicate is so important. Make sure they talk to their friends with their eyes, ears, mouth and not via text! 

Some things, of course, are fine to text about, but relationships are hard and certain situations need to be communicated in person and not by text. You can't read context through text. Parents need to model this too.

What if a teen is being bullied? It depends on the severity, but parents might have to get the school involved, if that’s where it is happening.

Stress-Busters

Here aresome healthy ways to handle stress that I tell kids about in health classes:

  • Going for a walk
  • Talking to a friend
  • Dancing
  • Writing
  • Exercise
  • Music
  • Hobbies

Other Resources
If you think your teenager has a problem with stress, sit down and talk with him or her.

Discuss what changes might offer relief, such as dropping an extra-curricular activity or doing fewer chores around the house.

Your family doctor can also help by ruling out possible health conditions or referring your teen for counseling.

In addition, you might want to help them learn techniques to manage stress—maybe deep breathing or meditation.

If you're like me, you want to give your kids every possible advantage in this world.

And while you can't slow the pace of life, you can take steps to help your teen cope.

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Brooks Michael is an adolescent health educator for Carilion Clinic’s Adolescent and Student Health Services. Learn more about Brooks and her work with teens

More Carilion Living content for the teenage years.