Teenagers are known for their angst. They're also expected to go to school for 40 hours a week and perform well enough to get into a top college, along with playing sports, leading the debate team and volunteering at various community service events. And don't forget homework time.
When it feels like there aren't enough hours in a day to get everything done, the stress level increases. In fact, they're more stressed out than you are.
During the school year, teens reported unhealthy stress levels of 5.8 on a 10-point scale, compared to the healthy stress level of 3.9, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. Thirty-one percent of those students reported they felt overwhelmed, and another 30 percent reported they felt sad or depressed.
"It is alarming that the teen stress experience is so similar to that of adults. It is even more concerning that they seem to underestimate the potential impact that stress has on their physical and mental health," said APA CEO and Executive Vice President Norman B. Anderson.
To help your teen reduce his or her stress, establish a bedtime. Teenagers need eight to nine hours of sleep each night, recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. Most students are getting much less, and have reported feeling more irritable and stressed the next morning.
Exercise is one of the most effective methods for reducing stress, and can combat fatigue caused from not sleeping. Invite your teen to join you at the gym, or suggest going for a walk for 10 minutes. The small break to exercise may help relieve their stress in the middle of a long stretch of homework.
Unhealthy eating patterns are a common side effect of stress. Twenty-three percent of teens reported skipping a meal due to stress, and 39 percent of those reported they do this weekly or more. If your teen does their homework at the kitchen table, leave out a bowl of fruit or other healthy snacks. They'll be more likely to munch on what's in front of them rather than go to the pantry for chips.
The American Psychological Association also suggests establishing routines at home, which can be comforting to your teen during stressful periods. Eating dinner together every night is a great way to make sure they're eating healthy, and allows your teen to open up about any problems. Remember to listen to what your teen is saying, and focus on their decision-making process rather than give advice. Sharing positive thoughts or feelings will help keep the lines of conversation open between you and your teen.
The second-biggest source of tension for teenagers is the prospect of getting into a good college, or deciding what to do after high school, according to the American Psychological Association in a news release. Ask your teen less frequently about college plans and focus on the present. Day trips to local colleges can turn into a fun experience for you and your teen, and help open up a tricky conversation. Summer break would be a good time to casually start the conversation, and might yield some opportunities to informally check out some local or regional campuses your teen might be considering.