I have two teenage boys. Our lives are busy and chaotic, between school, homework, sports and other obligations. My house is messy and teenagers smell really bad. I find myself constantly yelling at them to hurry up, clean up, do this or do that. It never made sense to me that they couldn’t do the simple tasks they were being asked to do in a timely manner. After all, how hard is to run up to your room, put your clothes in the hamper and brush your teeth?
Then it occurred to me that we are always in a rush and rarely have “down time”. The therapist in me began to ponder. Maybe my kids are stressed and overwhelmed. Could it be that I didn’t notice that they’re having a hard time? Me? The therapist who is so attuned to the feelings and struggles of others? There was only one way to know for sure…I had to ask them.
Knowing that if you ask a teenager a question directly face-to-face that one will get, at best, a one-word answer, I took it to text messaging. My older son was in car with his carpool on his way home from high school, and I asked him, “What makes teenagers feel stressed?” I was initially met with “I don’t know”, but I was persistent. I said, “Ask the other kids in the car”, and I told him I wanted to know for an article I’m writing, as I didn’t want him to think it was personal.
The answers were very telling. Here is what they said stresses teenagers:
Nowhere is this list was there even any mention of annoying parents or siblings. That seems to be the least of their worries. What are we doing wrong that our teens are so stressed? Or is this just a normal part of growing up? I’m going to say that it is both. Maybe our teens just have too much on their plates. Hours of homework and hours of sports and other activities might be too much. Pressuring them about SAT’s and college doesn’t help either. They have enough to deal with just navigating the waters of friendships and peers at this stage.
So how can you help your teen minimize and manage the stress in his or her life? Here are some useful tips.
- When your teen says he is exhausted, that means he is exhausted, not lazy. He needs some down time. Nobody will die if he misses soccer practice tonight.
- Remember when you were a teen, and the pressures that you felt. Do this often. Empathy is very powerful. Your role is different as the parent, and it’s so easy to forget what it was like to be a teen. You were also once a teen, so just try to think about that.
- Don’t over-schedule your child, either academically or extra-curricular. Does he really need to take 5 AP classes and play on 2 soccer teams and take music lessons? Maybe just a couple AP classes, one team, and no music would lessen his stress and make him a happier person. He will still go to college and be successful, maybe even more so if he learns he doesn’t always have to do it all.
- Encourage good nutrition, sleep and exercise. It does matter.
- Give him some space. Realize that your teen doesn’t tell you about everything, or even about most things. That’s ok; it’s his way of beginning to separate his life from yours, and it’s healthy. But remember that this doesn’t mean everything’s going well. Just because you don’t hear about it, doesn’t mean he isn’t having problems with his friends or with dating or even with teachers. He just doesn’t want to talk about it.
- Help him learn how to manage his time. If that means you have to take away his iPhone so he can get his homework done, then do it. He will thank you later (maybe when he’s 30). It will teach him that you can get more done in less time when you really focus, and in turn, it will actually give him more time to spend talking to his friends.
- Give him as many of these coping skills as possible. What he learns now will serve him well throughout his entire life.
Most importantly, just be there. Be supportive and understanding and encouraging. It’s not easy being a teen.