By Janey Downshire, from Teenagers Translated specialising in Teenage Development and runs programmes helping parents and teenagers
A new study out today from National Citizen Service (NCS), a youth empowerment programme designed to support young people's personal and social development, reveals a rise in children as young as 12 experiencing stress around their future. For parents a teenager experiencing stress can be incredibly difficult, but what's often worse is not knowing or understanding the pressure your child is under until it's too late. Here are a few pointers on how you can spot the signs of stress:
Does your teenager appear to be more anxious than usual?
Overthinking, ruminating or worrying about a decision is a common sign that a teenager might be experiencing stress around decision making. In this situation it is important to remain calm and give your teenager the chance to talk through their thoughts with you. Ask questions and be supportive, any frustration will fuel their anxiety.
Is your teenager putting off difficult decisions?
If your teenager is feeling stressed about their future and confused about what to do next, you may become aware that they are procrastinating and distracting themselves with social media or gaming, rather than sitting down and tackling the situation head on. It is hard not to wade in and nag, advise or press them to make a decision but the best thing you can do is stay calm and set up opportunities, like family mealtimes, for general conversations which can encourage them to consider a wide range of options. Ruling things out can often help to narrow down interests. Apart from the support offered by family and school, being away from home allows young people to meet other adults and get some feedback and direction. An opportunity like NCS helps teenagers to develop their own sense of agency and build on their strengths and passions, all of which feed into building confidence and reducing some of the high levels of anxiety felt by many young people today.
Is your teenager quieter than usual or spending more time in their room?
Teenagers will start to alienate themselves from their parents as their innate need for independence kicks in. It is important that parents use their intuition to decide whether silence, withdrawal or arguments are normal, or whether a sudden change in behaviour is a sign that they are struggling but feel unable to articulate what the problem is. Try and engineer some time together, for instance on a car journey, where you have some time to dig a little deeper. Teenagers do not respond well to being told what to do, so ask open questions and listen to what they have to offer.
Is your teenager irrationally lashing out at you or others?
Whilst some young people will chose to shut you out when they're feeling stressed, others will act out in more challenging ways. Picking fights or snapping irrationally can be a plea for attention, but parents can prevent fuelling confrontation by remaining anchored and responding calmly.
Is your teenager sleeping or eating differently to normal?
When we feel stressed or overworked, our bodies react in different ways. Some feel more alert and therefore struggle to sleep, others become easily fatigued and lethargic. Similarly with food, some of us crave more when we're stressed as comfort food; others feel too anxious to eat. Look out for any of these signs in your teenager, and closely monitor any changes.
Janey Downshire is supporting National Citizen Service (NCS), a two-three week programme for 16 & 17 year olds taking place during school holidays. The programme, which is recognised by UCAS and employers alike, helps teens develop skills for work and life including confidence, leadership and resilience, whilst also expanding social networks. The next programme takes place in October half term and costs no more than £50, to sign your teenager up visit www.ncsyes.co.uk.
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