5 Signs Your Teen’s Stress Level Is Too High

The American Psychological Association has found that high levels of stress are extremely common among teenagers.

stressed teen student

The APA also reports that school is the number one stress factor for teenagers. Stress unmanaged can quickly turn into depression if your teen doesn’t have healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. Here are 5 signs your teen’s stress levels are too high and might need advice on how to better cope.

 

  1. Your teen is sick a lot

Complaining of a headache or stomachache a lot may be a sign of stress, especially if it coincides with the days before tests or other big school events, or if your teen is using health complaints to get out of going to school. Chronic pain could be a sign of something more serious, but as long as a doctor has proclaimed them physically healthy, physical complaints are often stress-related. Stress also reduces your immune system, so getting colds or flus often can also be a sign of high stress levels.

 

  1. Your teen is irritable and hostile

Being irritable and hostile with family members is a sign that your teen is not coping healthily with stressors. Just like adults, when a teen is easily frustrated or stressed by small problems that normally would not affect them, it may mean their stress levels are higher than normal and they are having trouble coping with small problems. Teens also have a tendency to lash out at family members when they are stressed out.

 

  1. Your teen isolates him/herself

A loss of interest in socializing, either with family or with friends, is a sign that your teen is having trouble coping healthily with problems. A loss of interest in activities and isolating oneself are also signs of depression, so it may be time to talk to your teen about stress and coping mechanisms.

 

  1. Your teen has nervous habits

Unmanaged stress can lead to anxiety and anxious habits like chewing on fingernails or hair or tapping feet. Watch for nervous habits to see if they are related to stressful events in your teen’s life.

 

  1. Your teen has turned to alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs

Many teens who have not developed healthy coping strategies are tempted by alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs as ways to deal with stress. Talk to them about finding healthier ways to cope with anxieties and stressors that will help them throughout their lives.

 

If your teen is developing these unhealthy behaviors, it may be time to get professional help. Counseling can teach your teen healthy coping behaviors that will benefit them for the rest of their life. If you’re not sure about counseling, talk to your teen about healthy ways to cope with stress and watch for signs that his or her stress levels are unhealthily high.

 

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7 Ways Parents Can Help Teens Deal with Holiday Stress

teen holiday stress

Follow these tips if you want to help your teen not feel stressed this holiday season. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Most parents know that the holiday season that begins at Halloween and stretches all the way into the New Year is stressful. What many of us don’t realize is that as our stress level increases, so does the stress level of those around us, including our teenagers. Unfortunately, when we are stressed out we are also less likely to notice the signs of stress in ourselves and others. This can produce a double whammy for our teens that are experiencing more stress and getting less support for managing that stress then they might at other times of the year.

But there are things you can do to help keep the stress level of everyone in your family, especially your teens, from getting stressed out during the holiday season.

  1. Manage Your Stress

The most important thing you can do to help your teens is to manage your own stress. Not only does this help lower the contact stress they get from you, it also helps ensure you will notice the signs of stress in those around you. Managing your own stress level also helps model healthy stress management techniques for your teens.

  1. Simplify Your Schedule

One of the things that can create a lot of stress is over-scheduling. Between shopping and parties and decorating and family and travel… well, there is a lot going on. Limiting your commitments and simplifying your schedule will lower your stress and make it easier to enjoy those things you do choose to do.

  1. Notice the Signs

Pay attention to how your teens are handling the holidays and look for the signs of stress like headaches, trouble sleeping, angry outbursts, or unusual moodiness. Spotting these signs is key to providing the support your teens need when their stress levels are high.

  1. Understand the Impact of Big Changes

Major life events like a divorce or the loss of a loved one are difficult but they can become even more difficult during the holidays. If your teen has experienced this kind of life changing event, be aware that they may be more stressed or struggle with stress more this year.

  1. Share, But Don’t Overshare

If there are things going on in your lives that are making the holiday season more stressful than normal like financial difficulties or a separation, be honest with your teens but remember they aren’t adults yet. Keep your sharing at the appropriate level and reassure them that while things are different or even difficult, you will get through it together.   Don’t burden them with your adult problems by oversharing or using them as a source of emotional support.

  1. Make Moving a Priority

The days are shorter and it gets dark so early that it can be tempting to skip active family time. However, this can actually exacerbate any issues you are having with stress because exercise helps alleviate stress. Make sure everyone keeps moving.

  1. Do Something for Someone Else

The act of giving can do wonders for your stress level and helps keep the focus of the holiday season on giving, thankfulness, and blessings. Make it a point to volunteer, give back, and help others during the holidays and you will decrease your family’s stress while helping many others.

 

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Raising Thankful Teenagers

thankful gratitude teen manners

Frustrated at a lack of manners? Follow these tips if you want to have a thankful teen. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

The month of November is all about gratitude and being thankful for all the wonderful blessings in our lives. But when it comes to our teenagers, we may feel as if they missed the memo about this attitude of gratitude. If you find yourself wondering why your teen seems to be unable to see the blessings in their lives, these tips can help you open them up to a more grateful point of view.

  1. First, Relax

Although it may not be optimal, it is very normal for teenagers to lack gratitude for the things in their lives. We have to remember that many teenagers still feel as if the world revolves around them, which may be annoying, but is developmentally normal. It is important to note this because it means that having a teen that is ungrateful isn’t necessarily a cause for concern.

  1. Gratitude is Learned

Like most traits, some people are inherently more gratitude oriented than others, but for most people, gratitude is a learned skill. Teens can develop their attitude of gratitude by learning to be more sensitive to other people’s feelings, developing the ability to be empathetic, and experiencing altruism.

  1. Role Models Matter

We learn how to interact with and react to the world by watching and modeling the behaviors we see in others so if you want your teenager to be more thankful, take a minute to look at how you are modeling gratitude for them. Think about how grateful you are for the things you have and about how you express that gratitude around your children. Seeing you cherish the things you have and hearing how thankful you are for the blessings in your life teaches them how to view the world the same way.

  1. Give the Gift of Giving

The holiday season can be packed with excess and the focus on making lists of things they want and dreaming about the gifts they will get can reinforce the natural teenage tendency toward self-centeredness. But you can provide better balance and help teens see the importance of gratitude by giving them the gift of giving to others. There are many different ways kids can get involved in helping others this time of year. Help them get involved and participate with them.

  1. Make Gratitude a Tradition

Another way to help instill gratitude into your children and teenagers is to make gratitude a habit or a tradition. You might encourage all family members to share something they are grateful for as part of your family dinner routine. You could also get involved in regular volunteer/giving opportunities through your church or a local community group. Developing these kinds of traditions will reinforce the attitude of gratitude all year round.

Taking a little time to foster thankfulness in your family benefits everyone, no matter their age. Research indicates that people who feel grateful are happier and more optimistic than their less thankful peers and gratitude can help decrease stress levels. As we head into the stressful holiday season, spending time focused on all the great things we have might actually make it easier to enjoy the less materialistic aspects of each holiday celebration.

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Let’s Stomp Out Bullying

bullying

Know these bullying warning signs (photo credit:BigStockPhoto.com)

The message of this year’s National Bullying Prevention Month awareness campaign is ‘No Matter’ as in, no matter who you are, what you look like, or what makes you different from me, we are all people and no one deserves to be bullied.

No matter who you are it is likely that you have had to deal with a bully at some point in your life. Whether it was the kid on the playground, the group of girls in high school, or the boss that made life miserable, bullying is a problem in our society. Unfortunately, we now know that what has been seen as just a part of life or even a rite of passage can cause real, lasting damage that can impact the rest of a person’s life.

According to StopBullying.Gov, bullying doesn’t only affect those who are being bullied; it also negatively affects the bullies themselves and anyone who witnesses it.

Kids who are bullied are more likely to be depressed, to struggle with anxiety issues, to feel isolated, sad, and alone, and to experience changes in their eating, sleeping, and activity patterns. Children and teens who are bullied may not live up to their academic potential or participate in school activities, both of which can limit their access to higher education opportunities and high paying careers. They are also at a greater risk for missing school, skipping school, and dropping out of school altogether.   In rare cases, children and teens who are bullied can lash out with extreme violence and almost all the school shootings in the 1990s were committed by victims of bullying.   All of these effects can continue to impact that person for the rest of their lives.

When children and teens bully others it can also affect the rest of their lives. These children are more likely to engage in violent, risky behavior as teens and as adults. They also have an increased risk for alcohol and/or drug abuse, participating in criminal activities like fighting and vandalizing property, and for dropping out of high school.   Those who bully are more likely to become sexually active early on, to be convicted of a crime, and to be abusive to their spouses and children in the future.

Those who are not bullied themselves and who do not participate in bullying others but who simply witness bullying do not go untouched.   These children and teens are more likely to smoke, drink, and use drugs during adolescence. They also have an increased risk for mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

This understanding of just how much bullying affects the lives of our teens and their futures highlights the importance of doing what you can to help stomp out bullying in your family, your school, and your community this month. For more information on bullying and its effects and to learn more about what you can do to help, here are some helpful resources.

StopBullying.gov from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

National Bullying Prevention Center

Bullying Prevention Resource Guide from The Partnership for Children and Families

Is My Child Being Bullied? Action Steps for Parents from the Huffington Post

When Your Child is the Bully from the New York Times

 

Mental Health Wellness Week

mental health

Develop the skills and habits needed to improve and maintain your mental health wellness. (Photo Credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

When we talk about mental health, most of the conversation centers on disease and disorders and raising awareness about these conditions. But there is another side to mental health, one that is often neglected in our discussions and in the media – mental health wellness. The goal of Mental Health Wellness Week is to make sure wellness is part of the conversation.

We get checkups at the doctor and keep up to date with our vaccinations in an effort to maintain our physical health, but the majority of us only begin looking after our mental health once something goes wrong. When you consider that our mental health affects everything in our lives from what we can achieve to our relationships with those we love, it seems strange that we don’t put more focus on preventative care. The state of our mental health influences how we see ourselves, how we see others, how we cope with challenging situations, and how well we manage the stress in our lives.

Mental Health Wellness Week was started by national non-profit mental health advocacy organization, Freedom from Fear, 30 years ago. The goals of this awareness campaign are:

  • To increase the public understanding of mental health wellness
  • To promote a better understanding of the mind/body connection
  • To raise awareness about evidence based approaches for improving and maintaining mental health wellness
  • To provide a resource for people to find mental health wellness support resources in their community
  • To spread awareness about the kind of coping skills that help improve and maintain mental health wellness

When people have good mental health wellness, they are better able to handle stressful situations and to overcome challenges. Those with good mental health wellness display some common traits. They are well-equipped to bounce back from adversity. They excel at effectively communicating about their feelings and at building and maintaining strong interpersonal relationships. They are able to set and achieve goals and know when to seek help from others. They have an appreciation for themselves and know how to fully enjoy their lives.

There are several ways to develop the skills and habits needed to improve and maintain your mental health wellness.

  • Learn to manage stress through techniques like yoga, relaxation, and breathing exercises
  • Develop a mindfulness practice and adopt a mindful approach to life
  • Being physically active
  • Adopting lifestyle behaviors that support mental health wellness like journaling and meditation
  • Building a strong support network
  • Setting realistic, achievable goals

The key to improving your mental health wellness is learning to manage your stress which is why it is so important to develop good coping mechanisms.   You can improve these coping skills by focusing on relaxing, meditating, and taking time to take care of yourself.   Being physically active, eating right, getting enough sleep, and spending time with friends and loved ones also help build your resilience. Using humor, participating in hobbies you like, taking care of pets, and attending to your spirituality will also improve your overall mental health wellness.

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What Parents Can Do to Make Teens into Safer Drivers

teen driver

Follow these tips to help ensure your teen driver is safe when they’re on the road. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Today, like every other average day in America, 8 teenagers will lose their lives in preventable car accidents according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).   Car accidents, which kill almost 3,000 teenagers a year, remain the number one cause of death for this age group. The only way we, as a society, are going to change that is by changing how we regard several of the driving behaviors that have proven to be the most dangerous amongst young drivers. The goal of National Teen Driver Safety Week is to help make those changes and when it comes to adopting attitudes aimed at keeping teens safe, parents have an important role to play.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) teen drivers are three times as likely as other drivers to be involved in a fatal crash.   Studies have shown that there are several specific reasons that teen drivers are more likely to be in an accident than adult drivers. Focusing on those reasons and taking action to change those outcomes is what needs to happen to decrease the number of preventable deaths caused by teen drivers.

To help parents understand where to focus and what kinds of actions to take, here are two of the most common reasons teens are more three times as likely to get in a fatal car accident as other drivers.

Lack of Experience

The simple truth is that teenagers have been driving for a short amount of time which means they lack the long term experience that makes older drivers safer on the road. While there is no way to shortcut this process, since experience takes time after all, parents can make a difference by taking the time required to ensure their teen learns to be a safe driver.

Many parents think driver’s education programs will teach their children everything they need to know to be a safe driver. Unfortunately, while safety is an important part of many drivers’ education programs, the goal of those programs is to equip your teenager with the knowledge they need to pass their licensing exams. The knowledge and experience they need to drive safely after they get their license needs to come primarily from you. This means taking your teenager out to practice driving for at least the minimum number of hours required by the state. It also means setting a good example and sharing the benefit of your experience with your teenager.

Distractions

Another reason a teenage driver is more likely to be in an accident is that they are more likely to drive distracted than most adults. According to Distracted.gov, 10% of fatal accidents where the driver was under age 20 involved a driver that was distracted.   Distractions come in many forms. Teenagers can be distracted by their phones, by the radio, by their passengers, and because they are eating. Make sure you are setting a good example for your teenager when it comes to distracted driving and put rules in place to ensure they are focusing on driving whenever they are behind the wheel.

 

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Media Overuse in Teens May Lead to Mental Health Issues

teenagers electronics video games phone

All of those hours your teen spends playing video games may have a greater impact on them than you realize (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Everyone, from doctors to parents, is concerned about the long term effects of too much screen time on today’s children and teens.  But the conversation generally focuses on the long term effect on physical health since more screen time generally equates to less physical activity.  However, new research suggests that for adolescents, the combination of overuse of media, lack of physical activity, and sleep deprivation may also increase the risk for mental illness.

The study, which was published in the journal World Psychiatry, came from a research team at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.   The goal of the study was to determine if there was a link between certain risk behaviors, like alcohol and drug use, lack of sleep, sedentary behavior, and overuse of media, and the prevalence of mental illness and self destructive behavior.

The team used a questionnaire called the Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) and collected data from more than 12,000 European teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16.

The results identified three different risk groups across the participants.

The first group was labeled the high risk group.  These teens had a high incidence of all the risk behaviors listed above.   The teens in this group, which accounted for about 13% of the participants, had an increased incidence of mental illness.

The second group was labeled the low risk group.  These teens reported none of the risk behaviors or a very low frequency of these behaviors.   This group accounted for about 58% of the participants.

The third group was the most surprising to the research team and was therefore labeled the invisible-risk group.  This group reported extensive use of media, primarily sedentary behavior, and lack of sleep, but did not report participating in the other risk behaviors.  This group, which included about 29% of the participants, reported similar levels of mental health issues including suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression as those in the high risk group.

The study indicates that teens that are spending a lot of time in front of screens and not getting enough physical activity or sleep may be as much at risk for mental health issues as those participating in the high risk behaviors generally associated with an increased risk of mental illness. 

While parents, educators, counselors, and other caregivers would take alcohol abuse, drug use, or other high risk behaviors as warning signs that something serious may be wrong and seek help, they are less likely to become concerned about the behaviors exhibited by the invisible-risk group.  The research suggests that teens engaging in these behaviors need to be assessed and monitored for mental health issues as closely as their high-risk peers.

One additional finding in the study was that boys who are at high risk for mental illness are more likely to fall into the high-risk group while girls are more likely to fall into the invisible-risk group.

 

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How a Summer Job Can Change Your Teenagers Life

summer job

Find out how a summer job could be the best thing for your teen (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

On the surface, there are several obvious reasons you might want your teenager to get a summer job.  It will teach them responsibility.  It will give them some spending money.  It will get them out of the house and away from electronics for a few hours.  But research shows the benefits of a summer job go well beyond those most parents see.

  1. Reduces the Risk of Dropping Out of School

Experts agree that when teenagers hold down a summer job, they are less likely to drop out of high school.  Working during the summer keeps them engaged, exposes them to mentors, and gives them a hands-on understanding of what it is like to be in the workforce.

  1. Boosts Confidence

According to research, high school students who work full time have more self-confidence than those who don’t.  Taking on the responsibility of a part time job forces teens to move out of their comfort zone, to try new things, and to test their own abilities.  All of these new and challenging experience help create and boost confidence.

  1. Teaches Time Management

When you work, you need to be more aware of the time and pay more attention to how you are spending your time.  Both of these time management skills benefit teens now, when they return to school in the fall, throughout their college years, and for the rest of their lives.

  1. Opens Up Their World

Working, even in a summer job, exposes teens to new people, new cultures, new ideas, and new experiences.  It provides them with opportunities to explore their own identities, beliefs, and values.  It introduces them to completely different social circles.  It teaches them how to interact with other people, including difficult ones, and teaches conflict resolution skills.  All of these experiences help them as continue to decide who they are and where they fit in the world.

  1. Provides Job Experience

Even working a summer job can make a difference to their future employment because it is employment that they can put on their resume.  This essentially gives them a leg-up when it comes time to get that first job after graduating high school or college.  It shows employers that they showed up and did their job well enough to keep their job.  Even working at a fast food joint or as a babysitter can be beneficial when it comes time to enter the workforce.

While summer employment has been challenging in recent years as unemployed adults took jobs traditionally held by teenagers, the economic recovery means there are more jobs available to teens this summer than in summer’s past.  While there are a wide range of jobs that are suitable for teens, here are some of the jobs that are likely to benefit your teens the most this summer.

  • Camp Counselor – Great way to spend summer outdoors, expand leadership skills, and improve communication skills.
  • Retail Clerk – Great for social teens who like interacting with people.  Helps with time management, communication, confidence, and working with the public.
  • Golf Caddy – Great for athletic teens who like to be outdoors.  Teaches communication, customer service, and pays better than most other summer jobs.
  • Life Guard – Great for athletic teens, teaches responsibility, leadership, communication, team work and interacting with the public.
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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Resources for Parents of Teens

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder OCD

Know the signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder that affects people of all ages.  A person with OCD experiences severe anxiety related to specific things where the level of anxiety or worry doesn’t match what is happening.  The specific things that they have this reaction to are called obsessions.  Teenagers can develop obsessions related to normal teenage problems like making friends, doing well in school, or fitting in with peers.  But someone with OCD can develop an obsession about almost anything.

In order to deal with these obsessions, those with the condition will participate in ritualistic behaviors related to their obsession that help to ease the level of anxiety they are feeling.  These behaviors are called compulsions.   The need to perform this ritualized action can be so strong that it may feel impossible not to do it.

The following resources provide more information about OCD, how it is diagnosed, how it is treated, and what parents can do to support their teens.

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Children and Adolescents from  the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology – Provides a good overview of OCD in adolescents and provides links to other resources
  • OCD in Children and Teens from the International OCD Foundation – Offers parents insight in what it is like to live with OCD, an overview of treatment options, and a resource for finding help locally.
  • Child and Adolescent OCD from the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Gives parents a good overview of the most common obsessions and compulsions experienced by children and teens and discusses the effect OCD can have on the overall family
  • OCD in Teens from Beyond OCD – Offers a section of information ”Just for Teens” about this disorder that includes an overview of the disorder, a list of symptoms, information on why therapy works, and links to other resources
  • OCD in Children and Teens from the International OCD Foundation – Provides an explanation of what it can feel like to have OCD, a downloadable brochure about OCD, and links to information on treatment and other resources.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Overview from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America – Provides parents with basic information on symptoms, treatment options, and offers additional information on hoarding, which can sometimes accompany OCD, even in teens.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD  from the National Institutes of Mental Health – Provides a basic overview, information on symptoms and treatments, a description of common risk factors, and information on how to live with this disorder.
  • The Role of Personnel in School  from OCD Education Station, Beyond OCD – Although this resource is targeted at those who work in the school, it can provide valuable information for parents about what kinds of resources, assistance, and accommodations may be available to support their teen’s OCD during the school day.
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Eating Disorder Research Update

eating disorders

Be sure to understand when eating disorder risk factors become predictive. (photo credit:BigStockPhoto.com)

Research teams across the country and around the world are constantly pursuing research projects designed to help better understand eating disorders including the root cause, who is most at risk, and what treatments are the most beneficial.  For families affected by an eating disorder, keeping on top of this research is important as it can improve their understanding of a specific disorder and guide them in providing the support and assistance required to restore a person with an eating disorder to good health.  To help, here is an overview of one of the research initiatives published thus far in 2014.

Understanding When Eating Disorder Risk Factors Become Predictive

The factors that can increase the risk for developing an eating disorder are well known thanks to previous research initiatives but when those risk factors emerge and at what point they can be used to predict eating disorder development is less clear.  The goal of this study was to better understand how to use what we know about risk factors to do a better job predicting future disorder development.   The data used in the study was collected from a participant pool of almost 500 females who completed an annual survey for the 8 years spanning from pre-adolescence to young adulthood.   The survey tracked potential risk factor and eating disorder diagnosis information.

The results show that risk factors generally emerge in early adolescence and three of the risk factors emerging in the early teen years seemed to correlate to an increased risk of eating disorder development in the later teen years and in early adulthood.  These three factors are perceived pressure to be thin, internalizing thin as the ideal body type, and body dissatisfaction.  Of those three, increased body dissatisfaction in girls ages 13 to 16 was predictive of an eating disorder diagnosis within 4 years.  The other two factors only seemed to be predictive when seen in girls who were 14.  This indicates that prevention programs need to begin in early adolescence, these programs need to target girls dealing with increased body dissatisfaction, and that prevention efforts focused on 14 year old girls will be the most effective.