“Mum, not now, please,” my 15-year-old opined in her familiar whine, pleading for the space that she needed after a long day at school.
I took the cue to come back at a “better time”.
As a parent of two full-fledged, hormonal teenagers, I have experienced how a small trigger can escalate a seemingly harmless conversation into an argument of dramatic proportions if I am not careful. In this case, I felt it wise to give her room to decompress and catch her when she was in a more cheerful mood.
In general, teenagers can show signs of stress in their behaviour, emotions, body and thinking.
While not necessarily a bad a thing, stress can be especially hard to manage as a young person transitioning into adulthood.
Most sources of teenage stress typically revolve around the usual culprits: problems with friendships, relationships, body image, social media, academic performance and parental control.
Interestingly, teenagers don’t necessarily define stress in line with conventional wisdom. In a recent survey by Focus on the Family Singapore, over 1,050 local schoolchildren aged between 10 and 15 were found to be more stressed and anxious over school exams than they were about COVID-19.
Evidently, competitive school pressure and a high-performance academic culture do account for levels of stress of “pandemic” proportions on a teen’s shoulder.
“There’s quite a lot of pressure to keep up with our schoolwork. Days are long and intense. Nobody likes to feel like they are lagging behind and sometimes it’s hard to find time to relax,” says Ryan, 14, a secondary school student who feels academic stress takes top billing.
Parent Ruth Tan, 50, agrees. “Both my teenage girls are concerned over their academic achievements. The stress level tends to rise when tests or exams are round the corner. My older one tends to be more anxious as she is more competitive. I need to remind her that exam results are not everything. Sometimes, I would even sleep with her at night to provide emotional support.”
Let’s not forget the nagging quest for meaning, identity and significance that perplex most adolescents. The pressures to engage in social media are endless. Teens struggle with the need to be noticed online while also having to maintain their privacy. Getting more likes or followers, cyber-bullying and “cancel” culture add to the complexity of it all. Youth – traditionally seen as the most enviable time of life – is now a minefield.
“Many teens already have social media at such a young age (some even as young as 9). Social media competes with our family and friends to tell us who we are. Unfortunately, many young teens value the ‘feedback’ given by social media, which often tends to be more critical and negative,” says Joel, 17, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic student.
Social media competes with our family and friends to tell us who we are. Unfortunately, many young teens value the ‘feedback’ given by social media, which often tends to be more critical and negative.
Helpful Coping Mechanisms
Stress is the body’s way of preparing us to handle something we perceive to be difficult or painful. If your teen is displaying physiological signs of stress: sleepless nights, faster heart rate, feelings of breathlessness, anxiety, withdrawal, aggression or feeling sick, ensure he or she gets some of the following:
- Exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet
- A good sleep routine
- Take a break from stressful situations
- Break a large task down into smaller tasks and make a plan to tackle them
- Set limits on screen time and social media consumption
As much as teenagers can find physical ways to manage stress, much unhealthy stress takes place in the mind. Helpful thinking can help to reduce teenage stress and prevent the brewing of negative mindsets.
Here are some unhelpful thinking patterns to avoid:
|Mind-reading or expecting other people to have a bad opinion of you
||For example, “They think I’m stupid.” Or “She thinks I’m not good at anything.”
|Anticipating the worst
||For example, “I will never get selected in the audition.”
||For example, “I can’t change”, “I have no choice.” Or “This is never going to work.”
|An all or-nothing attitude
||For example, “She does everything right, and I always get it wrong.”
Try these strategies instead:
|Reframe situations in a positive light, focusing on what is present rather than what is absent
||For example, “Even though I still failed this test, I actually improved my score.”
|Avoid overly high standards for yourself and others
||For example, “Given the time I had to work with on this project, this is the best I can do.”
|Talk back to that negative thought
||For example, “She said I didn’t look good in that dress but I’m sure she didn’t mean to hurt me.” Or “I have close friends who are willing to be honest with me.”
“As a parent, I think it’s very important to keep communication channels open with our teens. This may require us to listen more and listen well before we voice our opinions. Sometimes our teens need our empathy more than our feedback so I’ve learnt to hold my tongue. This will also help them to be more receptive when we finally offer our suggestions on how they can cope and manage their stress,” shared Angela Young, a 53-year-old homemaker who has four children aged 16, 17, 20 and 25.
At the end of the day, a parent should always be vigilant in watching out for how stress is affecting their teenager’s health, behaviour, thoughts and feelings. We should also model good stress management skills to our children and render our support when needed.
© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Tracey Or is a full time mother of six, part-time dreamer and writer at her blog, Memoirs of a Budget Mum. Those who know her well knows she gets through life with a good joke, coffee and the occasional Netflix.
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