Teenagers vs Stress:

How We Can Recognize It And Help Our Teens Help Themselves

by Audra Mrini, MA, NCC Resident in Counseling


Teens. Stress. Some may wonder how these two go together. What could our teens possibly be stressed about? Adolescence is a period of life characterized by change on many levels. It is a time when not only the physical body is changing rapidly and in many ways, but there are emotional, cognitive, and social changes heaped on top of that. As if it isn’t enough to go through these normal changes, teens have academic concerns, family concerns, and concerns about the happenings in our community and world. I think we get the picture now. Let’s add one more layer specific to Northern Virginia teens. In a report by Fairfax County government charged with understanding an increase in youth suicides in the years leading to 2014, they noted the following:

Sixty percent of residents have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, and Fairfax County has a median household income of $111,000. Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS, 2015) is the 10th largest school system in the United States and has the largest enrollment in Virginia. FCPS has a national reputation for student achievement and is classified as one of the best school systems in the United States. Almost three-fourths of students attend post-secondary programs , and the average SAT score for the class of 2014 was 1668 (out of 2400), compared to the national average of 1500.

(Retrieved on February 3, 2016 from http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/hd/hdpdf/va-epi- aid-final-report.pdf)

While the standards of achievement in Fairfax County are impressive, this information tells us that living in Fairfax County has the potential to impact our teens with increased pressure to perform to those high
standards. So how do we help our teens manage this and create balance in their lives to remain healthy
and fulfilled? Let’s take a look first at the signs that stress levels are too high and the potential impacts.

While stress is a normal part of life and necessary in certain situations, too much stress can be harmful. Too much stress can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach and digestive issues, and fatigue. Emotionally, teens can feel anxious, irritable and/or depressed. The social impact can be seen when our teens are withdrawn from friends and their normal activities. We might see grades falling from the normal range and less motivation to engage in schoolwork and classes. We may also find our teens are engaging in substance use such as alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana, to name a few, as a means of coping with stress. If left unchecked, stress that leads to depression can leave a teen feeling hopeless, helpless and considering, in the worst scenarios, suicide. Anxiety, when left unchecked can lead to chronic health issues, family conflicts, and decreased support from friends.

We want to help our teens learn to recognize the signs that stress is too high and educate them about the potential risks. We, as adults, can help by modeling a healthy balance and management of stress in our own lives. One of the most effective interventions is to listen and pay attention to what our teens are saying and showing us on a daily basis. If our teens know they have someone to talk to about their stress, that provides them some relief and tools to work it through. Teens need to know they can talk to parents, counselors, youth leaders, and any other important adults in their lives. Additionally, let’s help them know their limits in how they use their time. Help them prioritize the activities in which they choose to engage. Help them find ways to have fun and relax. Let’s make sure they are able to spend time with friends, get adequate sleep, eat right, exercise, and do the things they love to do. If our teens can learn these skills when they are young, they can bring them into adulthood as well. By helping them now, we are helping them in their future as well.

If you would like help for you or your teen, there are many resources available. Johns Hopkins offers this article as a guide, http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and- institutes/center-for- adolescent-health/_includes/_pre-redesign/Teen_Stress_Standalone.pdf

Our counselors at Center for Pastoral Counseling of Virginia are also available to help you and your teen.

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