A new study from National Citizen Service reveals a rise in young people experiencing symptoms of stress related illnesses. The research suggests much of this stress at this time of year is caused by the overwhelming number of life decisions young people are increasingly having to make about their future, such as whether to go to university or follow a vocational route, which career route to choose, the list goes on.
With many teenagers becoming increasingly stressed and overwhelmed, it's no surprise that parents are feeling the pressure too. Sound familiar? Here's how you can help your teenager cope:
1. Being calm: When parents are struggling with work/home/family issues, we can unwittingly raise our child's stress levels because emotions are contagious and damage atmospheres. If you are feeling stressed, make sure your child understands the reasons why you are feeling this way. This will also kick start their long-term ability to link emotions to behaviour, raise their empathy and avoid them getting adversely affected by you.
2. Being proactive: If you are feeling anxious and worried about their future, your children naturally pick up on your non-verbal communication signals (sighs, eye rolls, hand wringing). Worry is rooted in fear and threats to survival, resulting in the brain focusing on what might happen if things go wrong. Teenagers can be prone to over reactivity and misunderstanding communication signals, so aim to replace lectures with unplanned conversations about Their Future with a "Can we talk through...?" approach. This will encourage future collaboration and team playing.
3. Keep talking: Keeping lines of communication open is vital. Children are encouraged to learn by having opinions/views, argue/debate, weigh up & decide. Growing up and becoming independent means being able to know where you stand on key issues which in turn will help you to make decisions for yourself. Parents can help develop good, clear communication skills by role modeling how it is done.
4. Gain a focus: Once your child has started to express their opinions parents can help teenagers to create a focus on their own area of interest by encouraging them to articulate their views and talk more about it. The area of their brain, which will boost motivation and energy levels, is kick started through exciting curiosity.
5. Encourage good routines: Daytime TV/screen time zaps motivation & enthusiasm because it interferes with dopamine in the brain. Encourage your teenager to treat screen-based activities as a reward after they have accomplished other things.
6. Allow independence: Thinking, weighing up choices & making a decision encourages future accountability, problem solving and develops an "I can" attitude. Tempting as it is to micro manage/push/advise when your child is facing life decisions, aim to get them in the driving seat, taking responsibility and thinking through objectives and implications. You could even try recommending they take part in a programme like NCS during the school holidays, where 16&17 year olds are encouraged to step outside of their comfort zones, meet new people and learn to stand on their own two feet.
7. Expect mistakes and failures: risk taking boosts a child's motivation and positive attitude, but not if making mistakes raises anxiety and makes them afraid to have another go. Children will sometimes get it wrong; parents can help them to learn from mistakes by how they negotiate the difficult times and how they respond to stumbles.
8. Flag up their strengths: identify your child's intrinsic skills (kind/good with people), interests (enjoys sport/countryside) hobbies (artistic/practical). This boosts confidence, self-esteem and self-worth. Allow time and encourage participation in anything (not screen based) which they enjoy and if possible, join them in the activity from time to time.
Janey Downshire is from Teenagers Translated, specialists in teenage development, who are supporting National Citizen Service, the country's flagship youth empowerment programme for 16&17 year olds taking place this October half term. Visit www.ncsyes.co.uk for further information.