Teenagers are dealing with more stress and anxiety than ever before. Yes, this has been said before, but as a counselor who specializes in working with adolescents, I can confirm that teen stress appears higher than it was a decade ago. There are several trends that I hear regarding stress in the counseling room.
The first one is the stress from school. The demands of school are greater than ever before. Many families expect for their child to not only go to college, but get into the best colleges. It now requires students to be in the top 10 percent to even have a chance to be accepted into some state schools. Subsequently, in order for adolescents’ class rank to be strong enough, they are expected to take college courses while in high school through Advanced Placement and Dual Credit courses. At the same time, it is expected for the teenager to participate in some sort of extracurricular activity, such as sports, dance, cheerleading, band, etc. Many teenagers report working on homework past midnight just to be able to fit in all their responsibilities. I often observe anxiety levels rising in high school students about 2 weeks before the school year begins, as they mentally prepare for their grueling schedule to begin again.
Adolescents are under more social pressures than ever before. Their social lives are on display 24 hours a day. It is observed how many “friends” they have on social media, and gossip and bullying is now done publically on these platforms for the whole world to see. The pressure is always on to be clever, popular, or at the best places at all times. You would be amazed how often teenagers discuss Snapchat in the counseling room! It is because social media creates significant social pressures for this generation!
Lastly, because teenagers’ lives are always on display, the pressure is on to be perfect at all times. Teenagers are under constant pressure to perform in order to keep up with their peers, make their coaches happy, keep their parents proud, and to keep up with their teachers’ expectations. Sometimes these pressures can be too big for a teenager who hasn’t fully learned how to cope yet.
Despite these challenges, there are many things that we can do to help our child develop strong coping skills, build family connections, and strengthen self-esteem. The first thing I recommend is talking to your child. It always amazes me how quickly an adolescent will open up to me about personal and vulnerable things in the counseling room. However, it is evident that teenagers are quick to open up because they really do want support, guidance, empathy, and acceptance from an adult. Try making 1-1 time with each of your teenage children. Whether it is a fun Starbucks outing or just chatting in the evening make it a point to have 1-1 time Ask about their stressors, things that make them feel proud, and their social and romantic relationships. Let them know they can talk about anything without judgment. Use this time to connect with your child; you can help guide them in the right direction once they trust you with the information.
I have to admit, once a teenager really opens up, I have to bite my tongue at times. You see, teenagers are smart, clever, and think outside the box. These are great qualities that I love! However, the teenage years also come with limited life experiences. As a result of the limited life experiences, I witness teenagers not always thinking through their choices completely. When you find your adolescent heading in the wrong direction, try not to tell them. Instead have conversation starters like “it sounds like you have been thinking hard and with passion about this idea! I love witnessing you making goals and thinking about your life. Do you mind if we talk about it, so I can understand your ideas clearly?” Then, you can gently ask questions, such as “If you decide to quit your job, can you tell me how it might impact how you are able to pay for the things you enjoy and need to purchase?” instead of “You should never quit a job before you have another one lined up!” Remember, this is a time for your teenager to learn critical thinking and problem solving skills that can’t be gained if you provide all the guidance and answers.
There are times that everyone needs additional support to help cope with stress. If your teenager is struggling with stress, anxiety, self-harming behaviors, and/or depressed mood, it might be time to ask for additional support. Heights Family Counseling specializes in treating teenagers, as well as family therapy, and counseling to help parents cope with the unique stressors of parenthood.
Written by Amy Rollo, M.A., LSSP, LPC-S
Amy Rollo is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and owner of Heights Family Counseling. Amy has been practicing for fifteen years. She has doctoral level training in the areas of child and adolescent counseling, marriage and family therapy, and adult counseling. Amy Rollo provides counseling and evaluation services in the Houston Heights and surrounding areas. Amy’s goal in counseling is to journey with her clients in order to foster positive changes and growth in their lives. Read more about Amy's counseling style by visiting www.heightsfamilycounseling.com and read more about her services http://heightsfamilycounseling.com/services-1/