I recently had an enlightening conversation with a college sophomore who is destined for a great future. She has a delightful personality and is blessed with a rare blend of analytical and interpersonal skills. Her resume of accomplishments is a mile long. So, can you imagine my surprise when she confided to being totally stressed out about her future? Will she find a job? Would she be accepted into a decent grad school? She doubted whether her 3.97 GPA was good enough.
Meanwhile, as an author and speaker, I meet with a wide variety of audiences, including teens, parents, educators, mentors, counselors, and business leaders. Which is the most needy, anxious, and stressed out? The hands-down winner: parents of teens!
Although a little stress can be a good thing, too much can be unhealthy and counterproductive. Unfortunately, when it comes to the teen years, it appears that things are getting out of control for all parties.
What to do?
Let’s start with teens. For them, it’s a time of unprecedented growth, transition, and decisions about their future. Part child and part adult, they’re discovering their identity, building their credentials, and planning their next step. Soon, life will never be the same, and it can be overwhelming. They’re stressed about:
- School—homework, grades, activities—doing well enough to punch the ticket
- Social life—friendships, popularity, drama, peer pressure
- Future—decisions about college, career, service, and building their resume
- Busyness—overcommitment, time management, lack of sleep/downtime
- Family—relationship strains and living up to their parents’ expectations
That’s a lot!
With that, here are some helpful stress-busting strategies for teens:
- Keep a healthy perspective. Everyone has stress—the question is how we deal with it. Do we take charge and channel it into a productive plan or do we let it consume us? Do we focus on what we can control and make the best of situations where we can’t?
- Be self-aware. Identify the chief sources of your stress and ways they may be prevented or limited. Call out any underlying fears and explore ways to alleviate them. Understand and tap into your most helpful stress busters (e.g., exercise, quiet time, prayer, music/movies, humor, sharing with friends and family, serving others). And, be sure to get your rest, eat well, and confide in your loved ones.
- Focus more on the process than the outcome. Stress levels rise when we emphasize specific outcomes rather than simply doing our best. Examples include GPAs, admission to specific colleges, dating, making the team, and selecting our career/major. There is no single pathway to success, including which college you attend. And, for most high schoolers, it’s premature to know which major/career is the best fit. Finally, today’s “friend count” will seem silly in hindsight as you preserve a smaller core of loyal friends who matter most.
- Keep balanced and develop good time management skills. Today, busyness, distraction, and overcommitment are interfering with our balance and productivity. Now is the time to sharpen your prioritization skills and to view your time as a precious asset. Manage your pace. And, when deciding which activities to pursue (technology included!), always consider their value and time requirements and your available capacity.
During this incredibly stressful time, teens are feeling a lot of pressure and are pulled in many different directions. As their parents, teachers, and mentors, we need to rally around them and help them apply the above principles to keep that stress under control. If you have a teen in your life who is worried about their future, we’d love for you to share this post with them! And remember, stay tuned for the next portion of this series: stress-busting tips for parents!
How do you personally deal with stress? If you have a teen who is stressed about college, how have you helped them deal with it? What has been the most stressful part of raising a “future adult” for you? We’d love to hear from you!
Dennis Trittin is the author of What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead and Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World. Through his books, blog, and nationwide speaking engagements, Dennis prepares students for life success and equips parents and educators in their vital training role. You can find him here on Facebook.