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One third of US teens say they feel stressed-out on a daily basis according to Reuters, and researchers suspect US teenagers are feeling such stress as a result of overwhelming expectations by parents and society. Another study, conducted at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, found nearly two thirds of teens have “stress incidents" at least once a week." Although the researchers focus on parental and peer group expectations as the primary factor in teenage stress, many other causes must also be considered. While adults may think of teen stress as “learning what it’s like to live in the real world," the truth is that many teens face not only the same worries as adults, but also the additional teenage problems such as changing hormones, peer pressure, and the expectations mentioned above. Certainly teenagers worry about finances, family, friends, world issues, their future, their past ("mistakes") and more, just like adults, but their compounded stress comes from factors as varied as teenagers themselves and shouldn't be lightly brushed aside simply because of their ages.

Our Changing Young
Most teens experience stress when they perceive a situation as dangerous, difficult, or painful and feel that they don’t have the resources to cope. Some of the things that trigger teen stress are:

  • negative thoughts and feelings about themselves – this can come from taunting or teasing by other teens, difficulty accepting bodily and emotional changes, or just wishing to be stronger, more talented or beautiful like their media idols.
  • problems with friends - teenagers need acceptance, approval, and belonging; it’s vital during the teen years. When they feel isolated or rejected by their peers or family, their stress and anxiety level can increase to the point of engaging in risky behavior in order to fit in and belong.
  • school demands and frustrations – changing schools, increased academic demands such as advanced courses, adjusting to a variety of teachers, adjusting to class, extracurricular and homework schedules, school “in crowd” issues, all add to the teen stress profile.
  • separation or divorce of parents – this is the all-too-common broken family scenario for many teens brings related stressors, such as financial insecurity, parental visitation, being a pawn in the divorce disputes, shame among friends with two-parent households, adapting to a blended family, to name a few.
  • other stressful situations – the death of a relative, serious illness, life-changing accident or injury, criminal prosecution, molestation, assault, drug usage, all are traps or circumstances the ill-equipped young can fall into.
Looking at the above, it’s a wonder anyone makes it to adulthood! Actually, few of us get there without at least acquiring some mental, emotional, and even physical scars along the way.

How To Help
Our children are our future - any measures we take to protect and nurture them in their “living years” will reap unimaginable benefits for us all as a global society. Some of the most important are:

  • Foster a positive relationship with your (or other) teenagers – not only parents, but all of us who interact with teenagers often forget what those years were like, and criticize, complain, and dissociate with young people in favor of adults. Perhaps from jealousy, maybe envy, who knows; we must ask ourselves this: who will show them how to be an adult if adults avoid them?
  • Help your son or daughter have a positive body image - the way you think about and manage your own body image and weight issues will be communicated to your son or daughter and will impact the way they perceive their own body. Expressing acceptance and respect for your own body, demonstrating healthy exercise and diet with them and helping them separate fantasy from fact with their own growing bodies all will help a teenager with this often critical and stressful issue.
  • Teach effective conflict resolution by demonstration – this is a rapidly becoming a conflicted world and society increasingly reflects this. Even personal disputes now become lethal as “gangster rap” and “thug life” scenarios infiltrate our popular media and action movies portray murder as a bloodsport that ends when the movie’s over. The single greatest attribute needed by any teenager today is “emotional IQ,” the ability to think before impulsively reacting, judge consequences, and learning to channel anger before taking a life-changing course of action. His or her life very well may depend on this skill; you, as the experienced adult role-model, MUST teach it.
These are only a few of many ways to help with the stressful teenage period of growing up. The better we can make that time for our young, the greater the possibility of a better world for we older.
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