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Teaching your teen to deal with stress

Hilary Gan is a professional SAT tutor and a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona.

It is no secret that teenagers undergo the feelings of stress quite frequently. Help your child handle these feelings appropriately with the following advice.

Increasingly, children experience serious stress during their teenage years, in multiple areas of their lives. As a result, it is important to help your student cultivate healthy techniques for coping with this stress. Although the causes of teenage stress may seem less complex than those faced by adults, it is important to remember that your student's stress is complicated by both hormonal changes and a lack of experience with management and prioritization. Concerns about the future, difficulties in school, struggles with friends and so on are all new experiences that your child has very little practice in confronting. So, how can you help?

Teach your student to prioritize commitments

One obstacle for teenage students is overcommitment. Saying "yes" to every AP class, extracurricular activity, evening with friends and sports team can lead to burnout. Learning to prioritize responsibilities based on their relative importance and their level of enjoyment can aid students in assessing future opportunities before committing to them. If your student feels overwhelmed by how busy she is, discuss these factors with her. Encourage her to step away from those activities taken on out of obligation, rather than pleasure, as well as those she only joined out of a desire to "look good" to colleges or friends. Saying "no" can translate to success in those activities that she decides to keep by ensuring she has enough energy to fully participate in them.

Teach your student to recognize healthy and unhealthy responses

Occasionally, stress is inevitable, as in the case of a breakup, family issues or final exams. Be aware of, and help your child learn to look for, unhealthy responses to stress. Disinterest in favorite activities, poor emotional regulation, and "zoning out" in front of the computer or television are behaviors that even adults often embrace to try to avoid and control stress. Often, the hardest part is simply recognizing what is occurring; once acknowledged, these behaviors can be supplanted with self-care routines, exercise, emotional connection and creative outlets for stress (e.g. painting). Gently point out the behaviors you note in your student and invite her to express what she is feeling. Whether she chooses to confide in you or not, you can still help: Be vigilant about your teen's basic needs, like adequate sleep and a nutritious diet. Schedule time for hiking, biking or otherwise exercising together (which doubles as an opportunity for your student to confide in you). You can also help in processing inevitable stress by consciously setting aside time for relaxation.

Teach your student to do as you do

As always, modeling is one of the best ways to teach the behavior you hope to see. Ensure you create room in your own life for time with family and friends, as well as exercise, and promote healthy habits. Prioritize your commitments based on their alignment with your core values. Parents are never perfect, but opening up to your teen about your own struggles with stress, and sharing methods that help you cope, can be a very effective way to support your child and let her know that she is not alone.

For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit www.varsitytutors.com.

Photo credit: LWA/Jay Newman/Blend Images/Getty Images
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