Friday, October 23, 2015

Stress Busting in the Transition Teen Years

Last month I had the opportunity to talk to parents of 5th through 9th grade students about stress. The transition to middle school and high school is filled with anticipatory anxiety for students and their parents. 

Each parent participant received a handout, a rubber band, and a candy bar.

There are multiple external stressors that we can predict in the transition years: The impact of puberty, dating-driving-fitting in, and juggling multiple teachers and deadlines. With all of this going on outside, how each student perceives the changes/challenges is the measure of internal stress.

My message to parents: Lean in, listen more than you speak, and model/teach good coping skills.  All too often parents confuse removing stress with reducing stress.  Many fall into the trap of rescuing their child from external stress like the “mean teacher, or the “unfair loss” instead of seeing the opportunity to help build stress busting skills. It is easy to overlook the internal sources of stress.

The key to thriving (at any age) is learning how to manage the effects of stress.The handout was for parents to take notes or doodle if necessary.

Top External Stress for Teens: 
School and balancing their schedule
In the 2014 Stress in America survey our teenagers were reporting experiencing stress at higher rates than adults.  Despite feeling more stressed, these same respondents were unaware of the effects of chronic untreated stress and expressed poor confidence in their ability to manage their stress.  

Top stress buster of choice: 
Of the many ways to manage stress distraction is the LEAST effective way to reduce the feelings and negative effects of stress. They may look relaxed, but avoidance is ramping up the pressure inside.  
The rubber band was to remind parents that stress is not all bad.  It is healthy for kids to learn how to stretch and to find their sweet spot in how much stress is "just right," students also need help in learning how to return to a resting state (recovery). 

A good stretch is learning how to access motivation, manage difficult people, speak up when your friends are mean, try something new.  Parents can help encourage good stretches, monitor when the stretch goes too far, and connect kids with healthy alternatives beyond distraction to manage stress.

Alternative Stress Busting Options:
  1. Exercise: Take a walk, bring them to the gym, train for a fun run, work in the yard.
  2. Nature: Go to the park, take a hike, read outside.
  3. Sleep: Naps should be restricted to 20-25 minutes. Regular bedtimes and wake times encouraged. Recommendation is 8 to 10 hours each night.
  4. Positive Friendships: A few "high maintenance" friends is fun, too many is adding to stress load. 
  5. Hobbies: Not every sport or instrument is a source of college scholarship. Help your teen to try things for sheer enjoyment.
  6. Music: How about a playlist for AP World studying? Engage with your student in discovering the connection between music and mood.
This is a sampling of the many possible stress busting activities that assist parent and teen in managing stress through the transition years.  So what is the significance of the candy bar?  I wanted parents to lighten up and recognize the sweet parts of raising their kids through the teen years.

Also I generally think that chocolate is a nice idea when talking about stress. 

If you know someone with a teen in transition that would benefit from this post, please share the link! 

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