Help Your Teen Cope With Stress

By Elena Mikalsen, Ph.D.Teenager on phone
Pediatric Psychologist
Section Chief of Psychology Department

Is your teen spending too much time on social media and not enough time sleeping? It’s one reason your teen may feel stressed and anxious. According to the recent American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America Survey, our younger generation is increasingly more stressed.

More than one in four teens and young adults say they do not feel they are doing enough to manage their stress, compared with about one in ten older adults.

The APA’s survey also indicated that teens are more likely to report using passive rather than active coping strategies, which are not always as helpful. Teens rely mainly on taking a nap, listening to music, going online, eating and playing video games to cope with stress and depression.

Below are some more active ways of coping that parents can easily discuss and teach to their children.

Physical activity

One in five teens and young adults reports exercising less than once a week or not at all. Exercise is one of the most effective stress and anxiety relievers. Any of these activities are helpful: yoga, hiking, biking, walking, dancing, running, rock climbing, and skateboarding. The best activity is one which involves a social component. It doesn’t need to be a team sport.

Get enough sleep

The recommended amount of sleep for teens is eight to ten hours, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2016 recommendations. However, Stress in America Survey found that most teens sleep on average only 7.4 hours.

Lack of sleep is related to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression and decreased academic performance. Teens who don’t get enough sleep are four times as likely to develop depression as those who are well-rested.

Optimum sleep hours for young people start at 11:00 p.m. and end at 8:00 a.m., according to research.

Resist pressure

Teens are pressured more than ever to make so many choices, to know exactly who they are, to perform perfectly all the time, to achieve greater and greater. There is competition, social judgment, pressure from parents and teachers, and society.

Teach them they don’t have to be perfect, don’t have to get it right at any age, and can always change their minds and their personality when they are older. What they do now will not determine their entire lives.

Reduce time spent on social media

Psychologists and pediatricians believe that increasing dependence on social media by teenagers is leading to increased rates of depression and anxiety, especially for girls, although boys are not immune.

Girls are more likely to use social media and depend on it for communication, exposing them at greater rates to cyberbullying and preventing other healthier ways of social support. Girls are prone to comparing themselves to peers and defining their identity via others’ opinions, making them very vulnerable to depression after repeated exposure to social media.

There are estimates that the average teen spends 7.5 hours on social media on a typical day. That means your teen feels under pressure to be “clever, smart, and popular” for the entire day, first at school and then on social media.

It also means your teen is being judged and criticized all day long, exposing your teen to constant social pressure. A rumor spread on social media reaches thousands of people in a second.

It’s stressful, draining, and damaging. A recent Swedish study found that teens who spend a lot of time on the internet are as likely to become depressed and suicidal as teens who use drugs and skip school.

Don’t allow your teen on social media until the age of 14 or 15. Teach your teen to limit the number of friends they have on social media and limit how many social media apps they use. Follow your teen on social media to monitor their activity.

Teach them to block all cyberbullies and only stay in groups that are fun, entertaining, and social. Teach your teen not to use social media for mental health support or share their innermost secrets on social media.

Cut down on sugar and eat more foods that give energy

Your teen should always eat breakfast. Teach them to eat foods that are easy to digest but will give them energy: fruits, nuts, and yogurt are good choices. Teach them to eat more protein and vegetables and less refined carbs and fast foods.

Meditate or practice mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to paying attention to life in the present, being fully aware of your surroundings and what you are doing, and being in the moment and enjoying it fully, rather than constantly being distracted by electronics, social media, and text messages.

When we don’t have the ability to be in the moment, anxiety can sneak up on us. People who are always distracted and always worried about the future begin to struggle with chronic stress and anxiety.

Teach your teen to put away their phone at the dinner table and turn off the TV next time that your family is eating dinner. Just focus on eating your food and enjoying its flavors. Or next time your teen is watching a Netflix show, teach them to not Snapchat about it or talk to friends about it at the same time. Just discuss fully tuning in to the show. It’s that simple.

Talk to someone about your stress

Everyone is feeling more stressed out these day. It’s absolutely OK to talk about it. Teach your teen to talk to you and other family members about it, to talk to their friends, and, finally, ask to talk to a psychologist about it. There are also many books you can browse on the topic.

If you think your teen needs help dealing with stress and anxiety, talk to your pediatrician. If you need a referral for a pediatrician, visit this page.