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How to Help Your Stressed Teen Thrive

Mental Health Warning Signs with Teens, Teen Mental Health

Between the pressures of social media, academics, sports or other extracurricular activities, and complex social dynamics, many teens report high levels of stress in their day-to-day lives. As a parent, you can play a pivotal role in helping your teen cope in healthy ways. In this post, we share some key ways you can support your teen’s mental well-being during these challenging years.

Encourage Open Communication

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to create an open line of communication. Listen to your teen without judgment, validate their feelings, and remind them that you’re on their team

Here’s an example of how you can express support in a way that encourages open communication.

Parent: “You seem really down lately. What’s on your mind?”

Teen: *Sighs.* “Everything feels so hard right now. I’m overwhelmed with school, friend drama, and the whole college thing looming. I don’t know how to make it all stop weighing on me.”

Parent: *Puts arm around teen.* “I hear you, and I’m sorry you’re struggling so much. When things pile up like this, it can mentally drain even the strongest person. But you don’t have to tough it out alone.”

Teen: “I guess I’m just afraid. Like if I admit I can’t deal, people will think I’m failing at being a teenager or something.”

Parent: “Absolutely not. Asking for help when you need it is a brave thing to do. And you have nothing to prove to me—I’m your parent, not your judge. I just want to understand what you’re going through so I can support you better. I’m on your team, no matter what.”

Help Your Teen Find Positive Ways to Deal With Stressful Situations

Teens dealing with chronic stress need positive outlets like exercising, journaling, meditating, making art, listening to music, or spending time outdoors. Explore different strategies together and find what works best for your child. Modeling your own healthy coping skills can also be valuable.

Let’s look at how this might work if your teen is an athlete who is worried about letting their team down at an upcoming competition.

Teen: *Paces back and forth nervously.* “I can’t stop thinking about the big game tomorrow. What if I choke under the pressure? My performance could decide if we make the playoffs or not. The whole team is counting on me!”

Parent: “I understand how much you want to succeed, but putting that much pressure on yourself will only increase your anxiety. Have you tried any relaxation exercises before competitions?”

Teen: “Not really. I usually just listen to music or go for a run in the park to psych myself up, but it’s not helping me calm down this time.”

Parent: “Why don’t we try some deep breathing together? That can help relieve tension. *Breathes slowly.* Inhale through your nose for four seconds…then exhale out through your mouth for six seconds.”

Teen: *Follows along, starts to relax a little.* “This is kind of helping, actually.”

Parent: “That’s great. There are lots of easy techniques like this that elite athletes use to center themselves. Visualizing success is another good one that helps me when I’m stressed out about making a sales presentation at work. Close your eyes and mentally run through making that winning shot or scoring that goal. You’ve done the hard work, now let your body do what it knows.”

Teen: “Okay, I can picture that. Focusing on what’s in my control instead of worrying about everything else.”

Parent: “Exactly. You’ve got this—not because there’s no pressure, but because you have healthy ways to cope with it.”

Help Your Teen Develop Confidence in Their Problem-Solving Skills

The teen years present a crucial opportunity to instill problem-solving skills your child can lean on for life. In addition to modeling stress management techniques, you’ll want to focus on teaching valuable skills like time management, organization, prioritization, decision-making, and emotional intelligence.

Let’s look at how this might work when your teen is feeling stressed out about their schoolwork:

Teen: “I’m just so overwhelmed with all the homework and tests I have coming up. I feel like I can’t keep up and I’m going to fail everything. You don’t understand how much pressure I’m under.”

Parent: “You’re right, I don’t fully understand what you’re going through. But I want to try to help however I can. Have you talked to your teachers about feeling overwhelmed? Sometimes they can give extensions or help you to prioritize assignments.”

Teen: “I’m too embarrassed to admit I can’t handle it all.”

Parent: “There’s no shame in asking for help when you need it. Maybe we can look at your schedule and start breaking things down into smaller, more manageable tasks? Why don’t you take a short break—grab a snack, listen to some music, or do something that will help you hit the reset button for a little bit? Then we can strategize about what to tackle first.”

Seek Professional Help When Needed

As the parent of a stressed-out teen, your job is to remain the voice of reason. Remind your child that this phase will pass, validate their feelings while also reframing problems as temporary setbacks, and encourage a growth mindset. 

If you fear that your child is dealing with anxiety, depression, or another mental health issue, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our locations in Middleton and Waukesha, Wisconsin, are well-equipped to support you and your child through the marvelous and often rocky adolescent years with a range of mental health services.

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