Being a teenager today is far more stressful than it was for their parents. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over one-third of teens report feeling significant anxiety. There are many factors that contribute to stress and anxiety, like technology and social media, peer pressure and the fear of missing out, pressure to be successful in school and life, and parental expectations, to name a few.
While these are all significant stressors for teens today, they also present a unique opportunity to build important skills they’ll need later in life.
We don’t know what the future of work looks like exactly. But we do know that the future is going to continue to move quickly and the biggest skills we can help teens to build is to be flexible, adaptable and resilient. Workplaces of the future are looking for individuals who can adapt and lead change. Teens are the future – helping them to be resilient and adaptable helps them to be happier and healthier. By being flexible and adaptable, they are guaranteeing a future of success. Here are a few ways parents can help:
As parents, you want the absolute best for your child and for his or her future. And yet, as we have seen with the college admissions scandal, there are times where a parent’s desire to help their teen succeed can create more stress.
Parental pressure is a big factor in teen stress and anxiety. Teens feel enormous pressure to make their parents proud, to become successful and to stand out. Parents have an opportunity to look at themselves and see where their expectations and desires are ‘projections’ rather than really being about their teens’ abilities.
There are more incidences of parents overreacting during team events or getting over-involved in their teen’s progress. Parents have the opportunity to take a step back and assess whether they are helping their teen for the right reasons. In other words, are you truly aware of your teen’s desires and goals? Are you allowing them to do what it takes to create their future?
Clarify your expectations for your teen about “success” and talk openly about what he or she wants to create next for themselves and in the future. Be aware of your own biases or ‘generational’ values and be open to the many ways to success that are now available to your teen.
Provide your teen with access to ”alternate” ways to success – together with your teen research the types of work or projects that your teen is interested in and look at the variety of ways to do well in those areas. Encourage your teen to research the different ways people have found success towards a specific field of work. Let your teen search out the variety of routes that can be taken to achieve a career or interests.
Pay attention when your teen is stressed
Today’s stress around technology cannot be ignored – the unrelenting influx of information is proven to increase the stress hormone – cortisol. Social media has created many positives for teens with the ability to connect and create real time. The dark side of social media is the insidiousness of ‘trolls’ and the passive aggressiveness of bullies who hide behind online personas.
Listen, really listen to what your teen is saying when she or he is stressed and be prepared to offer support in a variety of forms. For example, maybe you need to spend more focused one on one time with your teen by going for walks, drives or outdoor activities. Or maybe your teen would benefit from talking to a therapist or a wellness coach.
Pay attention to the signs of stress such as withdrawal, lack of social interaction, shift in appetite, loss of interest in things they used to enjoy. Have open dialogues about mental wellness and open sharing of when your teen is stressed.
Help your teen find moments of connection
Studies have shown that many teens today feel lonely and isolated. Why? Because many teens are relying on technology forms of connection and not on human to human connection. As a parent and as educators there is an opportunity to guide teens towards more activities that involve connection. This can include events where team projects are the focus, such as STEM coding days where technology is used AND teamwork is the success factor. Parents can also ensure that daily time is spent on face to face family talk either during a meal or in the car when you have them as a captive audience.
There have also been studies on the power of ‘nature bathing’ where teens spend time outdoors for a few hours a week to gain the benefits of being connected to nature. Outdoor activities have been linked to higher happiness due to the release of feel-good endorphins. Go for walks with your teens, teach them how to ‘be’ with nature and to connect with the natural world. We can guide them to strategies that help them keep perspective.
Turn comparisons into lessons in goal-setting
Peer pressure, FOMO (fear of missing out) and comparison to others are major contributors to high stress. In the very years where an adolescent is defining identity and looking to discover who she or he is, it’s difficult to not compare oneself to others. The fear of missing out is a skewed perspective that others are having more fun or are having better lives. We can help teens to see ‘reality’ by pointing out the truth behind the so-called perfectionist portrayals being seen on social media.
As a parent, you are not immune to these feelings – imagine being your teen and these stressors would be yours times ten! The best thing to do is to help your teen focus on their strengths, their unique abilities and their opportunities to be better and do better for themselves. The best antidote to peer pressure is self-esteem. Self–esteem is when a person holds himself or herself in high regard. We can help teens focus on his or her gifts and help them to see that each person has a unique contribution to their place in the world.
We can help teens by focusing on his or her ‘worth’ as a person, provide a reality check on social media portrayals and help them to reframe comparison. Reframing comparison means helping teens shift from an attitude of ‘he or she is better than me’ into ‘how can I shift my admiration or envy of that person into goals for myself’? Provide your teen with access to positive thinking and mental wellness resources available through school counselors or online or a therapist if appropriate.
Model resilience and adaptability yourself
Teach your teen how to learn from setbacks – let them see that the path to life is filled with many ‘teachable moments’ and that all of these moments form the basis of the future he or she is creating.
Model adaptability and resiliency yourself – are you able to make changes easily? Are you able to bounce back when you have a set back? Share your thinking processes on how you turn negative or bad situations into learning experiences. For example, if you had a challenging day at work, share that with your teen and talk through how you have learned from the situation.
Be willing to seek help yourself in the form of a coach or therapist and share the ‘why’ you are doing this with your teen. That you want support to stay positive, that you want to learn new strategies to deal better with stress or change.
As a parent, you can help your teen be resilient and adaptable by helping them to think and behave in ways that are positive and create enhanced well-being. The future is really exciting when we think of the unique gifts and skills that today’s teens will bring to the world. You have the unique opportunity to help prepare your teen to be flexible and agile so that they are ready for the future, whatever it may bring.