There is a not a person alive who would not stop a teen from committing suicide if they could. I truly believe this, and yet, another well-loved, smart, productive teenager with his entire life ahead of him has died in my community. His death leaves so many people feeling powerless and questioning the expectations and pressure we place on teenagers today, and I hope, wanting to check in with our own teens, to make sure they know they are loved.
Like adults, teens can become stressed out without knowing it is happening. One minute all is well, but then he or she gets behind in homework or starts one too many after school activities, or does not do well on the SAT or AP exams, or projects are due all at once, or a team goes to nationals, or a family faces a crisis that distracts the teen, or an important person in their life experiences a crisis, a friend or romantic partner dumps them … there is no end to what can go wrong.
Teens though, unlike adults, may not have ever experienced the new level of stress and may not be aware of how much it is affecting their behavior. Parents can help identify the signs of the stress and help teens find ways to remove some of the stress or at least cope with it.
Tips for preventing stress in teens
Be a role model. Try to remain calm when dealing with stressful situations. When stressed, demonstrate coping strategies – get enough rest, eat well, and seek support. If you know a particularly stressful event is coming, talk with your teen about how to prepare and avoid getting “stressed out.”
Focus on the process instead of the outcome. How hard a child tries is more important than the grade they receive.
Help teens monitor activities and “over scheduling.” Talk with your teen about their motivations, balancing extracurricular activities, sports, and schoolwork with time for friends, family, and relaxation.
Tips for addressing stress in teens:
Help teens identify “stress.” Recognize heart beating fast, butterflies, tightness in chest, obsessive thoughts about being ready for things, inability to enjoy restful activities, etc…
Teach teens ways to relax and cope with stress – taking a bath, exercising, yoga or deep breathing and meditation, listening to or making music, etc…
Remind teens that they are control of some things in their lives, encourage them to make decisions and prioritize activities they can.
Encourage teens to talk about what is causing the stress and identify healthy ways of dealing with it.
Identify perceived “unhealthy” ways of coping with stress including using alcohol or drugs, ignoring a problem, watching too much TV or playing too many video games, or getting irritable and cranky.
If things seem to be changing, ask your family doctor or a counselor for help! Do not wait to see if things get better - collect as much support and love around you and your teen as possible! Every teenager needs to feel loved and appreciated!