Adolescence can be a challenging period riddled with confusion and anxiety. As teenagers embark on the journey of self-discovery, they’re also dealing with the intense emotional and physical changes taking place. They face a variety of stressors and their behaviour can often be characterized as dramatic or extreme.

As frustrating as that can be for parents, it’s also perfectly normal. Psychologist Michelle Bertrand brings up a valid point. “Recent research indicates the brain structure of adolescents is still under construction,” she says. “During this phase, the emotional center reacts stronger to stimuli than in childhood and adulthood, while the calming parts of the brain are not fully developed until adulthood.”

Sources of Stress
Teenagers face a variety of stressors, and a large chunk of them are related to school. Many high school pressures are academically driven. For example, teenagers start to feel pressured about their performance. They start thinking about the future and what they should study, and the fear of failure becomes real. Likewise, their workload and responsibilities increase, which can cause anxiety.

Teenagers also face a variety of social pressures in school. This includes peer pressure, bullying and conflicts with peers, among many others. Most of these stressors are more prevalent in high school than elementary school. Anne Marie Bouchard, a Laval resident and mother of two teenagers, recalls when her children first started high school. “It was a stressful period,” Bouchard says. “They lost some of their friends from elementary school and didn’t know what to expect. Everything was new and unknown.”

Tips for Stress Management
If your teenager has frequent head or stomach aches, or complains about extreme fatigue, they may be dealing with stress. It’s vital for parents to remain engaged and present in their child’s life, and provide them with a safe zone with no judgement.

Bertrand suggests that parents listen more than lecture, and apply age-appropriate boundaries while also allowing their children to be autonomous and have their own experiences. The ideal is to be active in your child’s life without stifling them or being overly authoritarian. The new tendency to over-parent by being a helicopter parent is not helping either. Bertrand observes, “It robs our teens of a chance to self-discover and learn to regulate their reactions and learn problem solving.”

There are many ways to help teenagers effectively manage their stress. Here are some quick tips:

  • Sleep: Make sure your child gets enough sleep: teens need about nine hours a night.
  • Diet and exercise: Ensure your child eats a balanced diet and regularly engages in physical activity.
  • Structure: Children of every age thrive on structure, even teenagers. They feel safe with clearly defined boundaries and rules.
  • Balance: Many teenagers feel overwhelmed with homework, activities, sports, and family obligations, so it’s important to strike a healthy balance. Be sure to take time out for fun activities your child likes.
  • Support: Keep an active dialogue with your child. Listen to what they say and validate their feelings. Walk them through problem solving but allow them to make their own decisions.

At the end of the day, no parent can make stress disappear. So the best option is to help your child cultivate the emotional tools and coping mechanisms necessary to navigate their way through these challenging years.