Is it stress or anxiety?
Have you ever felt paralyzed staring at the big letter “F” on a paper or been told that you’ve got to turn your grades around quick or you won’t get into college? Teens face pressures today that may seem easily solved to adults, but can actually make or break the teen’s mental health. So what is the difference between normal every day stressors and anxiety?
According to the Mental Health Curriculum Organization, “The hallmarks of an anxiety disorder are persistent avoidance and withdrawal where it causes major impairment in your life. That’s more than just a stress response.”
How can parents help?
How can we expect our children to create healthy habits if we are not modeling it for them? By modeling stress-management we are able to show children what it looks like to assimilate through tough circumstances. Even though our instinct is to protect our children from “negativity,” sheltering them from it can promote the exact opposite. They could be left lacking in their ability to navigate the inevitable highs and lows that will come up in throughout life.
As parents and caregivers, we have an important part to play, by adopting our own healthy habits and helping children and teens find stress-managing strategies. These strategies can even be discussed in a group so that the teen can brainstorm their own ideas and implement them into the family’s stress management model.
- Model healthy coping. Caregivers can talk authentically with children about how they’ve thought about and dealt with their own stressful situations.
- Let kids be problem-solvers. It’s natural to want to fix your child’s problems. But when parents swoop in to solve every little glitch, their children don’t have a chance to learn healthy coping skills. Let your children try to solve their low-stakes problems on their own, and they’ll gain confidence that they can deal with stressors and setbacks.
- Promote media literacy. Today’s kids spend a lot of time online, where they can run into questionable content, cyber bullying or the peer pressures of social media. Parents can help by teaching their children to be savvy digital consumers, and by limiting screen time.
- Combat negative thinking. “I’m terrible at math.” “I hate my hair.” “I’ll never make the team. Why try out?” Children and teens can easily fall into the trap of negative thinking. When children use negative self-talk, though, don’t just disagree. Ask them to really think about whether what they say is true, or remind them of times they worked hard and improved. Learning to frame things positively will help them develop resilience to stress.
To read the NY Times Article about how to protect teens emotional well-being, click here.
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