Parents should treat teenage stress education just as importantly as they do any other topic in a teenager’s educational curriculum, including substance abuse education, or sex education. So says Dr Carl Pickhardt, a psychiatrist in Austin, Texas and author of several books, the most recent of which include The Connected Father, The Future of Your Only Child, and Stop Screaming. Here are some of his thoughts on what he describes as the hard half of parenting, and in particular, dealing with teenage stress issues.
There are three major aspescts of teenage stress to consider: its causes, its warning signs, and how to guard against its onset.
Looking first at the causes, it boils down to teenagers having a feeling of not being able to cope with the demands being placed upon them. There is a sense of not having the resources to cope with these demands, and a concern about the consequences of their not being able to cope. The predominant emotion is anxiety over this apparently overwhelming demand.
Looking next at the warning signs of teenage stress, here are 4 major clues to watch out for:
constant fatigue stress can wear you out and make you feel tired all the time
persistent discomfort stress can actually hurt, since both mind and body register stress
burnout stress can cause depression, and change what you care about
breakdown stress can be debilitating, and leave you unmotivated
So, we see that in order to guard against the onset of stress, teenagers have to avoid creating excess demands upon themselves. There are three major sources of this excess demand, and they are: goals, standards, and limits. Let’s look briefly at each of these in turn.
There’s nothing wrong with teenagers setting very ambitious goals for themselves. However, they have to learn that this comes at the price of putting a lot of demand on themselves. This is especially true if they are setting lots of ambitious goals in lots of different areas of their lives. It’s only natural for teenagers, just like the rest of us, to want to succeed in everything that they do; the “trick” is to be aware from the outset that they are creating the potential for stress. Then, hopefully, they can avoid the pitfall of over-commiting themselves, or if they do fall into that trap, at least be able to recognize when they do, and take appropriate steps. Even teenagers have only so much time and energy in any one day.
The same arguments apply to teenagers setting standards for themselves, where again they need to guard against putting undue pressure on themselves by a tendency to seek perfection in everything they do. This would be as good a time as any for them to realize that perfection is a fallacy. Setting limits is as much about teenagers placing limits on their desire to fulfill what they see as their obligations to others, as it is about them setting limits on their efforts to fulfill their own wants.
So it’s not difficult to see that the higher the goals, standards and limits that teenagers put on themselves, the higher the demands they place on themselves, and the greater the chance that they will put themselves under stress from over demand. The good news is that the ability to set challenging and yet realistic goals, standards, and limits is not somehow pre-ordained at birth. It is in reality a learned skill, which teenagers can develop gradually as they grow in maturity and confidence in their own abilities. It is a skill from which they can derive enormous benefit not just in dealing with teenage stress, but also throughout the rest of their lives.