For teenagers returning to high school, or young adults beginning college, starting a new school year often comes with a lot of stress and anxiety.
Gone are the days of a relaxing summer spent with friends outdoors and easy-going vacation time. With today’s competitive society, many teens and young adults feel pressure to find an internship, practice for standardized tests, or continue to study through the summer. Add to that the pressure of social media, with many experiencing the feeling of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) when seeing all the fun things their peers are doing during the summer. It can lead to feelings of self-doubt and worry.
A parent might begin to see some troubling patterns emerge from their anxious teen. Patterns of anxiety can be internalized or externalized. Internalized anxiety may include insomnia, excessive headaches or stomachaches, changes in eating, moodiness, and lashing out. Externalizing anxiety can include partying, consuming alcohol, doing drugs, playing hours of video games, or watching TV excessively.
When should a parent be concerned? It’s the duration of the behavior that can be troubling. A headache from stress is normal. When it is days or weeks of headaches, or other troubling behavior, it’s time to intervene. Here are some suggestions to help guide your teen with stress:
- Make sure your teen or young adult is getting the sleep they need. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night to function best. Most teens do not get enough sleep — one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights. Getting the right amount of sleep will help with their mood and agitation level.
- Manage your own expectations and stress. It’s okay if your teen doesn’t make the team or get the lead in the play. Don’t allow your own stress to become theirs. Being a parent means helping your teen overcome failure and disappointment. They will face many challenges going forward in life, so this is the time to help them cope with issues as they arise.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Help them navigate their feelings of being happy, sad, disappointed, frustrated, etc. Don’t just ask them about their studies or grades. Ask them how they felt about their day. Ask leading questions that will encourage dialog and sharing.
- For teens still living at home, limit their digital time. Being connected at all hours to social media, or the internet, can compound the feelings of stress or inadequacy. It can also lead to “digital insomnia”, whereas the light from televisions, phones, and computers is processed by our bodies is similar to the way we process daylight. This leads back to teens not getting the sleep they need to be healthy and less stressed.
- Set your teen up for success with goals and achievements they can accomplish. This will help build their self-esteem and guide them through the feelings of inadequacy. Creating mini-goals that are not time consuming, but affirming their skills and knowledge, will help them feel good about their achievements.
- If your teen has turned to drinking or drugs to deal with the stress and anxiety, it may be time to get professional help. According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), the studies found that highly stressed teens, compared to low-stressed teens are much more likely to become involved in substance abuse. If you see troubling behavior that suggests problems with alcohol or drugs, get help immediately.
Going back to school, or starting a new one, is never easy for teens and young adults. As with any new beginning, it can lead to stress and worry, which are expected. By guiding your teen, being alert to their behavior, and keeping the lines of communication open, it can be the start of a whole new adventure on the path to success.