Today’s Family: Stress tips for teens

Considering yet another school shooting just a few weeks ago, I am inspired more than ever to work with our young people — tomorrow’s future. One issue, of course, is how do we keep them safe. Just as important is how do we know what to do to help them thrive.

As a guidance counselor for the past 22 years and now in private practice, I have seen a multitude of students who perhaps would have fallen through the cracks if not for a caring adult in their life.

We are all in this together. The mental health of our children is a community issue and not something we can continue to ignore or not respond to because we don’t know what to look for. Isolation, lack of connection, anxiety and uncertainty about the future are the biggest issues our students are facing.

Mental health is not a dirty word and we need to pay attention to it, nurture it and improve it every day. The people who work with our Y and Z generations: parents, teachers, coaches, and clergy and support staff, as well as the kids themselves, need to know what to look for and what to ask.

At home and in your communities every adult should be listening.

Don’t talk about mental health like someone is crazy. We don’t question why someone takes care of their physical health, but if I see a counselor, that sends a message I must have a problem I can’t solve on my own. The stigma around seeking help can be very shameful.

Don’t use grades as the only assessment of your child’s progress, and definitely, don’t check their grades every day. This is so much stress on a child and not something they want to be judged on over and over. They are many more ways to praise a child than by their grades. Catch your kids doing something right! And tell them mistakes are opportunities for learning.

Children do not want to disappoint their parents. Believe it or not, they are not out to get you. They want to please you. Help them out with how to do that and then trust them to be true to their word. Your trust is invaluable to them.

You must be the keeper of your child's’ technology, social media and internet they are exposed to from an early age. This does not mean be a helicopter parent. It means you can set clear boundaries about what your child is exposed to and participates in.

It surprises me how many parents tell me they think their children are on their phones or games too much and are unclear about how they got that way.

Plan family dinners together at least once a week. If you must divide the kids up to get it in, do it. Other good times to talk to kids are when you are in the car. They won’t like it at first when you tell them they can’t use their devices in the car no matter what. If you start early enough though, you can get them comfortable with this habit which will transition nicely into the terror of the driving years.

Hold kids accountable. Be consistent in what you tell them. Do what you say and say what you do. It’s not easy being a parent. It’s also not easy to try and explain to your child why other children are getting killed at school.

Teens are hormonal. But you knew that right? We forget what it was like when we were teens, probably one of, if not the, most tumultuous times of our lives. From the ages 15-24 we experience the most developmental growth: spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally. Easy to understand then, why teens are confused, in doubt about their future, longing to connect and just plain exhausted.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, depression is the most common mental health disorder in the United States among teens and young adults. People with mental illnesses often feel embarrassed to talk about their issues or feel like they will become a burden to others by voicing their problems. Many suffer in silence, not knowing who to go to or where to turn.

Pharmaceuticals are not always the answer. Part of the treatment is validation of how you are feeling and support to know you are not alone. Uncovering the core root of your depression is the goal: treating the cause, not the symptom.

Here are my Ten Stress Tips for Teens (and their parents can use them too!):

Scream: Scream at the top of your lungs out loud “This Sucks.” Doesn’t that feel good?

Dance: Play a good song loud — really loud — and if you have the strength, dance to it. At a minimum, sing it out loud. Movement in general helps to release stress.

Talk: Talk to someone who would give a crap...a friend, a parent or a counselor (pick me!)

Eat: A big source of stress is low blood sugar. Healthy snacks every 2-3 hours is better than binge eating pizza and ice cream.

Play: Play a kid’s game from “back in the day” when you were “just a kid.” Cause guess what, you’re still a kid or at least allowed to act like one once in a while.

Laugh: Talk to someone or watch something that makes you laugh preferable belly laugh. When you are laughing, you are breathing, and breathing is a good stress reliever. If you laugh so hard you cry, you get double bonus points because crying is cathartic. Let it out.

Move: Okay so who the heck has time to exercise? But even if you do just a few jumping jacks or downward dogs, or run up and down the hall a few times, you’re engaging in a freeing form of exercise.

Cuddle: Cuddle an animal, live or stuffed. Or a human will work too.

Detox: If at all humanly possible, when really stressed out, avoid sugar and sugary drinks. (I know. You hate this one.)

Darkness: Turn off all technology before bed. Even if you think the tech helps you get to sleep, it doesn’t. Blue light exposure in the evening inhibits the body’s release of melatonin, causing you to become more awake, not to mention all the sleep disturbance from poorly timed pings.

Taking a break to do one of the above is a great first start to a healthy mind. Feeling good about yourself helps everything. It would seem to me that we should be addressing mental health first and the rest will follow nicely, if not miraculously. Since so many other things we’ve been trying obviously are not working, maybe it’s time to finally give something else a chance and listen from a different perspective. Our future may depend on it.

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About Kim Engstrom

Kim Engstrom is a certified mental health counselor and mother of two located in Chadds Ford. Online Counseling and Walk and Talk Therapy now available. For questions or more information on this topic visit www.KimEngstrom.com or Facebook at Kim Engstrom and KE Counseling Services. A complimentary 30-minute discovery call or in office meeting is available to all first-time clients to discuss your family goals.

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