A teenage girl sitting outside against a wall, holding her head in her hand.
From puberty to studying for school, teens can experience high levels of stress.

Stress in Teens and What Parents Can Do

Everybody gets stressed from time to time, including teenagers. In fact, stress in teens is common, as there are many things to worry about.

The pressures of school and relationships with peers, combined with a changing body and hormones can be distressing for teens. Problems at home, such as strained marriages, divorce, financial problems, or sibling conflict can make matters even worse. A growing number of teens are concerned about issues like politics and climate change.

While a little stress is normal and can even be helpful in the short-term, ongoing stress can lead to more serious issues, like anxiety and depression. Below, we will explain the most common signs and symptoms of stress in teens, and how parents can help.

6 Signs and Symptoms of Stress in Teens

1. Mood Changes

One of the most obvious symptoms of stress in teens is a sudden change in their mood. Although teenagers have a reputation for being moody, noticeable or ongoing changes can be a sign that they are struggling.
Because teenagers can find it difficult to express themselves verbally, they may become irritable or even aggressive. If your teen always seems to be in a bad mood, losing their temper, or causing arguments, they may be feeling overwhelmed or stressed out.

2. Behavior Changes

Stress can also cause changes in behavior. For example, a previously friendly and outgoing teen may suddenly become aloof and withdrawn, or a teenager may start acting out or talking back as a result of stress. They might stop doing their homework or start skipping school. You may even suspect they are using alcohol or drugs.

3. Neglecting Responsibilities

Stress can make it difficult to concentrate, so sometimes schoolwork can begin to suffer. It can also reduce motivation, so a stressed teen may stop going to after-school activities, sports meetings, or social events. You might also notice them neglecting personal hygiene or responsibilities around the house, such as keeping their room tidy.

4. Sleep Problems

Stress often has a negative impact on sleep, either making it difficult to get enough or wanting to sleep too much. If your teen complains of feeling tired all the time or has difficulty getting up in the mornings, stress could be affecting their sleep.

5. Eating Changes

Eating habits can also be affected by stress. Some people use food as a way to comfort and distract themselves while others may lose their appetite completely. If your teen is eating more or less than usual or if you notice significant weight changes, it could be a sign of stress.

6. Frequent Illness

Stress can cause physical symptoms, such as frequent headaches or stomach aches. Chronic stress can also affect immunity, making it easier to catch colds. A teen who is unwell a lot of the time or frequently missing school due to illness may be suffering from stress.

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How Parents Can Help Teens Cope With Stress

If you are a parent and recognize these signs of stress in your teenager, what can you do to help? Fortunately, there are many ways that parents can help teens cope with stress.

Help Them Get Enough Sleep

Teens need more sleep than adults: around 10 hours a night. Help them to get enough by encouraging them to relax in the evening and go to bed on time. Avoid eating late or drinking caffeinated drinks, such as tea, coffee and cola after school. Dimming the lights and not looking at electronic screens in the evening can also help. Ensure that your teen’s bedroom is quiet, comfortable and dark enough too.

Encourage Exercise

Exercise is a great way to release tension and increase the amount of feel-good chemicals in the brain. Encourage your teen to exercise for an hour each day, allowing them to choose an activity that they enjoy. Exercising outdoors or in nature can be even more beneficial.

Provide Healthy Meals and Snacks

Eating a healthy diet is one of the best ways to promote good mental health. Ensure your teen is getting enough nutrition by providing meals with plenty of protein, vegetables and complex carbs. You can also help by replacing high-sugar snacks with healthier options like fruit, nuts and yogurt.

Limit Screen Time

Teenagers tend to spend a lot of time looking at their phones or computers, which can affect their mental health. Social media can be especially harmful in terms of increasing stress, and cyber bullying is a significant problem. Limit the amount of time your teenager spends online or plays computer games and encourage them to go outside, read a book, or chat with the family instead.

Talk and Listen

If you suspect that your teen is stressed, encourage them to talk about it. Be sure to listen carefully without interrupting and don’t dismiss their problems, even if you don’t understand. If they are reluctant to talk to you, suggest they discuss their problems with a friend. It might also be helpful for them to see a professional therapist.

Promote Positivity

If you hear your teen talking about themselves negatively, gently challenge what they are saying. Ask them why they believe those things about themselves and whether they are really true. Point out their positive attributes, praise them often and encourage them to praise themselves as well.

Teach Stress Management Techniques

Teaching your teen some basic stress management techniques, such as breathing exercises, mindfulness, or journaling can provide them with the tools they need to cope, both now and in the future.

Make Time to Relax

Avoid overscheduling so that your teen has time to relax and have fun. While studying and after-school activities are important, so is having time to blow off steam. Encourage your teen to take regular breaks and don’t pressure them to work too hard.

Accept That Your Teen is Growing Up

It can be challenging watching your child becoming an adult with their own ideas about how they want to live their life. However, it is necessary to accept these changes to reduce stress for the whole family. Whenever it is safe to do so, let your teen make their own decisions and solve their own problems, and respect their privacy. Offer support, but do not interfere unless it is really necessary.

Look After Yourself

A stressed-out parent is going to be less able to help their stressed-out teen. Take care of your own mental health by applying the above advice to your own life. This will put you in a better position to help your teen cope when they need you. Moreover, by setting a positive example, you will also teach them how to manage stress by themselves in the future.