Helping Your Teens Manage School-Related Stress
By Leslie Davis
No matter what age your teens are, school is probably stressing them out. Even the most organized teenager is not immune to the daily pressures faced at school. Trying to keep on top of school work, handling peer pressure, maintaining some type of social life, participating in after-school activities and even figuring out what to wear in the morning can be a lot for any teen to handle.
That may be the reason why one in five teenagers has abused prescription drugs, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Managing school-related stress is one of the top reasons why teens turn to prescription drugs. Contrary to the belief that teens use prescription drugs to get high or feel good, teens often turn to their parent’s medicine cabinet or their friends for the following reasons:
• To lower stress and anxiety
• To boost their mood
• To stay up all night studying for an exam
• To enhance athletic or academic performance
Parents often see no problem giving their teens some of their pain medication or anti-anxiety medication, figuring they are helping their teens alleviate symptoms. Because it is so common for adults to receive prescriptions for their own symptoms, it is easy to think you are helping your teens by giving them even half of a prescribed dosage.
However, making prescription drugs accessible to your teenagers is not the best way to help them manage their school-related stress.
One of the best ways to alleviate the symptoms of stress is to get active. Encourage your teens to get involved with a sport or engage in daily exercise to help manage their stress. Regular physical activity can increase your teen’s self-confidence and lower symptoms associated with stress, mild depression and anxiety. It also boosts the levels of endorphins in the brain, which can result in improved mood and increased energy.
Good friends and laughter can help your teenager forget about their stress. Make sure your teens are spending enough quality time with friends, both after school and on weekends. If your teens have like-minded people around them who they can talk to and who understand the stress they are under, they will be better able to manage school-related stress.
A lot of stress is due to feeling overwhelmed by deadlines, finals and activities. With so many things going on at once, your teens may not know how to keep track of everything. Help your teens establish a good way to keep everything organized. Get them a calendar to keep track of assignments and deadlines, and show them how to effectively organize their room and backpack to keep things manageable. Nothing adds to a teens’ stress like forgetting to bring the paper they spent all night writing.
Boost Their Self-Esteem
High school is a time of insecurities and diminished self-confidence. Do your part to keep your teens’ self-esteem high by recognizing their achievements and reminding them how great they are. While you may get the occasional eye-rolling, your teens will appreciate knowing that their parents hold them in such high regard.
Don’t Pressure Them
A lot of school-related stress can come from parents. Teenagers may feel pressured by their parents to get stellar grades, join multiple clubs and score the winning goal. Don’t underestimate how much stress you can cause your teens by pressuring them to do or achieve more than they are able to. Know your teens’ limits and encourage them to do as best as they can without making them feel like they are letting you down if they don’t.
Make Sure They Relax
You’ve watched your teens pull all-nighters or write a paper for six hours straight without leaving the computer. Any time you see your teens overworking themselves, get them to take a break. Even if it’s just going for a walk, watching a show or having a snack with you, a break will help them clear their heads and provide a few minutes of needed relaxation.
Offer to Help
The last thing most teenagers want to do is ask their parents for help, but if you realize there is something you can help your teen do, offer to help. You may be able to quiz them for a test, help them bake something for Spanish class or even help talk through a problem they are having with a friend. Don’t ever be afraid to ask your teens if they need help – they may be too worried to ask you for help themselves, causing them more anxiety than they may already be experiencing.
Watch for Procrastination
Teens, like all people, are likely to procrastinate when they have an assignment due. That can lead to a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. Help your teens manage this by being aware of any big projects that are due and helping them set a timeline so they don’t leave everything to the last minute. This may feel as though you are micromanaging them, but it will help them better prepare for college and result in a less stressed teen.
Set a Good Example
If you are constantly stressed, worried, anxious and panicked, there’s a good chance your teenager will follow by example. Learn to manage your own stress in healthy and productive ways, and let that be an example to your teens.
Encourage Positive Thinking
Teenagers tend to be hypercritical of themselves and others, and plan for worst-case scenarios. Encourage your teens to instead focus on positive outcomes and find the good in situations and people. Not always worrying about what may happen or what other people are doing or thinking can help reduce stress.
Change of Environment
It may be that your teens cannot handle school-related stress due to environment, severe depression or anxiety, a learning disability or other factors.
If that is the case, you may want to consider an alternative school for your child, such as a teen boarding school, learning disabilities school or a wilderness therapy program. The change of environment can remove daily stressors and help your teens learn to manage stress, anxiety or any learning disorders in a more supportive and structured environment.
If your teens have developed an addiction to prescription medication, an adolescent treatment program can help them break their addiction while teaching them healthy ways to cope with stress so that drug addiction does not become a life-long problem.