A pioneer in mental health care for children
- About Bradley Hospital
- Our Centers & Services
- Our Locations
- Ways to Give
- Contact Us
- For Parents and Caregivers
- Destination Medicine
- Mental Health Conditions and Treatments
- Parenting Matters Minute
- Parenting Articles
- Childhood Chores
- Healthful Leisure
- How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen
- Growth and Development
- Emotional and Behavioral Health
- Teaching Your Child Not to Be a Bully
- Signs of Bullying in Children
- When Picky Eating Is a Sign of Psychological Distress
- What Are the Roots of an Anger Problem?
- What Can You Do to Help Your Teen Manage Anger?
- How Can I Assist My Teen With Cognitive Restructuring?
- How Can I Teach My Teen to Resolve Feelings in a Positive Way ?
- Managing Stress in Teens and Adolescents: A Guide for Parents
- Halloween Fears and How to Handle Them
- Tantrums, Meltdowns and Kids Acting Out: What to do?
- Understanding Childhood Fears
- Parenting an Anxious Child
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Children and Teens
- Advice that Has Worked for Generations
- Avoiding Homesickness
- Dealing with Divorce During the Holidays
- When a Child's Military Parent is Deploying
- Depression and Suicide
- Self-Cutting and Adolescents
- Signs of Childhood Depression
- Depression: How Parents Can Help
- Depression Can Lead to Suicidal Behavior
- What Could a Child or Teenager Be Depressed About?
- Suicide Prevention: Tips for Parents
- Parenting Guide: Drugs and Alcohol Abuse
- Parents Have a Responsibility to Understand the Potential Problems
- Know How to Tell When Use Becomes Misuse or Abuse
- Teens and Parties
- General Parenting Articles
- Parenting in the Digital Age
- Tips for Handling School Avoidance
- Family Advisory Council
- Family Liaison Program
- Resources for Parents
- The DAISY Award
- Nutrition: What We Offer
- Mental Health Advocacy
- Directions to Bradley Hospital
- Bradley Hospital Educational Series
- Resources for Veteran and Military Families
- Special Needs Camps
Managing Stress in Teens and Adolescents: A Guide for Parents
Teen stress is an important health issue. The early teen years are marked by rapid changes — physical, cognitive, and emotional. Young people also face
changing relationships with peers, new demands at school, family tensions, and safety issues in their communities. The ways in which teens cope with
these stressors can have significant short-and long-term consequences on their physical and emotional health.
What is stress? It is the body’s reaction to a challenge, which could be anything from outright physical danger to asking someone for a date or trying out
for a sports team. The human body responds to stressors by activating the nervous system and specific hormones. The hypothalamus signals the adrenal glands
to produce more of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol and release them into the bloodstream. The hormones speed up heart rate, breathing rate, blood
pressure, and metabolism. Blood vessels open wider to let more blood flow to large muscle groups, pupils dilate to improve vision, and the liver releases
stored glucose to increase the body’s energy. This physical response to stress kicks in much more quickly in teens than in adults because the part of the brain that can calmly assess danger and call off the stress response, the pre-frontal cortex, is not fully
developed in adolescence.
The stress response prepares a person to react quickly and perform well under pressure. It can help teens be on their toes and ready to rise to a challenge. The stress response can cause problems, however, when it overreacts or goes on for too long. Long-term
stressful situations, like coping with a parent’s divorce or being bullied at school, can produce a lasting, low-level stress that can wear out the body’s reserves, weaken the
immune system, and make an adolescent feel depleted or beleaguered.
We all experience both “good stress” and “bad stress.” Good stress is that optimal amount of stress that results in our feeling energized and motivated to do our best work. Good stress encourages us to develop effective coping strategies to deal with our challenges,
which ultimately contributes to our resilience. Bad stress occurs when our coping mechanisms are overwhelmed by the stress and we do not function at our
best. The same event can affect children and adults in very individual ways—one person may see a carnival ride as thrilling and
another may see it as a major stressor. Stress can become distress when we are unable to cope or when we believe that we do not have the ability to meet
the challenge. The solution is to adapt, change, and find methods to turn that bad stress into good stress.
What are some causes of stress
- School pressure and career decisions.
- After-school or summer jobs.
- Dating and friendships.
- Pressure to wear certain types of clothing, jewelry or hairstyles.
- Pressure to experiment with drugs, alcohol or sex.
Pressure to be a particular size or body shape (with girls, the focus is often weight; with boys, it is usually a certain muscular or athletic
- Dealing with the physical and cognitive changes of puberty.
- Family and peer conflicts.
- Being bullied or exposed to violence or sexual harassment.
- Crammed schedules, juggling school, sports, after-school activities, social life and family obligations.
What are some signs that
a teen or adolescent is suffering from stress?
- Increased complaints of headache, stomachache, muscle pain and/or tiredness.
- Shutting down and withdrawing from people and activities.
- Increased anger or irritability (i.e., lashing out at people and situations).
- Crying more often and appearing teary-eyed.
- Feelings of hopelessness.
- Chronic anxiety and nervousness.
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits (i.e., insomnia, nightmares, or being “too busy” to eat).
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Experimentation with drugs or alcohol.
Strategies for coping with stress:
- Talk about problems with others.
- Take deep breaths, accompanied by thinking or saying aloud, “I can handle this.”
- Perform progressive muscle relaxation, which involves repeatedly tensing and relaxing large muscles of the body.
- Set small goals and break tasks into smaller, manageable chunks.
- Exercise and eat regular meals.
- Get proper sleep.
- Practice consistent, positive discipline.
- Visualize and practice feared situations.
- Focus on what you can control (your reactions, your actions) and let go of what you cannot (other people’s opinions and expectations).
- Work through worst-case scenarios until they seem amusing or absurd.
- Lower unrealistic expectations.
- Schedule breaks and enjoyable activities.
- Accept yourself as you are; identify your unique strengths and build on them.
- Give up on the idea of perfection, both in yourself and in others. Give yourself permission and cultivate the ability to learn from mistakes.
How can parents help children and teens manage stress?
- Be aware of your child’s behaviors and emotions.
- Build trust with your child.
- Be available and open to talk with your child when he or she is ready.
- Encourage the expression of feelings.
- Teach and model good emotional responses.
- Encourage your child to tell you if he or she feels overwhelmed.
- Encourage healthy and diverse friendships.
- Encourage physical activity, good nutrition, and rest.
- Teach your child to problem solve.
- Remind your child of his or her ability to get through tough times, particularly with the love and support of family and friends.
- Keep your child aware of anticipated family changes.
- Monitor television programs that could worry your child and pay attention to the use of computer games, movies, and the Internet.
- Use encouragement and natural consequences when poor decisions are made.
- Help your child select appropriate extracurricular activities and limit overscheduling.
- Make your child aware of the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol before experimentation begins.
- Monitor your own stress level. Take care of yourself.
- Contact your child’s teacher with any concerns and make him or her part of the team available to assist your child.
- Seek the assistance of a physician, school psychologist, school counselor, or school social worker if stress continues to be a concern.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Adolescent Health; National Association of School Psychologists.
This article first appeared in the April 2014 Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter supplement.