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Helping your Teen

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Helping Your Teen

Many of us look back on our teen years with a combination of happy memories and relief that we won’t have to go through that again.

Adolescence can be an exhilarating, but also stressful, time. Being a caring and accepting adult in a teen’s life, whether you are a parent, relative, teacher, coach, minister, foster parent, mentor or family friend, and spending time together is one of the most important roles you can play for young people. The consistent, caring presence of adults in a teen’s life is one of the best predictors of a secure transition to adulthood.

Stress during the teen years

The process of forming an identity involves choosing among many of the norms and expectations of family, authority figures, and peer groups. It also involves expressing your personality in your own unique way. And it may mean making choices that disappoint the expectations of some of your family or friends.

This process can be stressful because it means experiencing rejection and acceptance. Peer pressure is a constant pull between being accepted by friends and being your own person. Dating means the joy of falling in love and the pain of breaking up. Romantic breakups are some of the most stressful events teens and young adults experience. Navigating expectations of parents, teachers, faith leaders, and peers is challenging.

In some cases, the stress of social problems and value conflicts can be severe enough to result in ongoing anxiety, depression, poor school performance, and even thoughts of suicide. This can happen when a young person does not feel safe and supported in expressing who he really is; for example, experiencing severe bullying, rejection from his parents, or racism; or living in poverty, neglect, or a violent environment.

Factors that support a teen’s identity formation and lower teen stress are:

  • Secure parental attachment
  • High self-esteem
  • Positive influence of other adults
  • Acceptance in a peer group

How to help

How can you help a teen you know navigate the changes he or she is experiencing?

Here are some tips:

  • Spend time with your teen; it’s easy for you and your teen to get busy, but spending time together regularly is one of the best ways to keep your teen safe and healthy
  • Realize that teens can get overwhelmed by a “pileup” of concerns and pressures
  • Encourage teens to talk about their day and life, and be prepared to just listen
  • Don’t rush to give advice, but offer encouragement and support
  • Don’t minimize or dismiss what a teen is going through; teens don’t have the long-term perspective that adults do
  • Suggest activities that help teens focus their thoughts beyond themselves; teens can ruminate about their own stress and negative events and can benefit from strategies such as volunteering and helping others
  • Model and provide stability and predictability
  • Be a consistent presence in a teen’s life and maintain a relationship over time; teens benefit from lasting relationships with adults, and they need adults they can turn to if they need to


Just for teens: managing stress

Between school, maybe a job, friends, dating, parents, and your dreams and ambitions for the future, there’s a lot going on.

During all of this, the adults in your life can be everything from helpful and supportive to clueless and incredibly frustrating. This article from TeensHealth gives straightforward advice on how to talk with adults, including how to disagree with them. It covers disagreeing with your parents, raising difficult issues, and talking with other adults.

In addition to keeping the lines of communication open, you can manage your stress with a few healthy habits.

Healthy habits that will last you a lifetime:

  • Eat healthy foods, exercise, and get enough sleep
  • Surround yourself with friends who make you feel good about yourself
  • Don’t use drugs or alcohol or start smoking
  • Picture yourself being successful in the challenges you take on
  • Do something for others; it can help you realize how much you have to contribute
  • Replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk
  • Take a break from stressful situations to do something you enjoy
  • Learn to feel good about doing a good job rather than expecting perfection from yourself and others
  • Practice stating your feelings in an assertive and respectful way

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