Help Your Teen Stress Less

Parents! In case you didn’t see our March Parent E-mail, here it is. If you’d like to receive tips, tools and guidance for raising your tween, teen or young adult, please sign up for our monthly parent e-mail.

Hi Parent,

Let’s talk about stress, shall we?

Many teens will be taking midterms and SATs this month. Others are visiting colleges—or deciding which college to attend. Pile on a varsity sport, a few school projects, nightly homework, a part-time job, a social life…and well, I’m getting stressed just thinking about it.

According to a recent report, there is a record level of stress among college freshmen. A large share of the students said they had frequently felt overwhelmed with all they had to do as high school seniors.

The recent documentary Race To Nowhere explores this very issue.

And I see it every day with my own daughters.

As co-captain of spirit week for her sophomore class, my 15 year old is busy writing a skit, rehearsing a step performance and overseeing the production of hallway murals. Not to mention two big school assignments, a just-added Italian class and the upcoming regents exams. And that’s just this month.

My 13 year old loves to dance, sing and swim, but she was feeling stressed so my husband and I decided to scale back her activities to relieve some of the pressure. Now we just have to figure out where she’s going to high school next year (in New York City we have the option of applying to a mere 600 high schools) and help her navigate the not-always-kind social dynamics of middle school. Sigh.

But the good news is she recently developed a love for cooking and it’s turned out to be a fun—and relaxing—outlet for her.

We all know stress can take a toll on our teen’s physical health. But stress is also associated with initiation of alcohol or drug use. In fact, our national research study showed the number one reason teens use drugs is to deal with school stress.

Science shows that transitions—moving, starting a new school, puberty—are particularly stressful periods for kids. And they are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol at those times.

(Kids in military families face more significant transitions—and therefore more stress—than kids in most other families. Here are resources specifically for military moms and dads.)

It’s important for us to pay attention to our kids’ stress levels and help them learn how to cope in healthy ways. Here are a few tips from our guide Helping Teens Slow Down and Stress Less —I know I’m certainly going to try to put them to use.

  • Discuss How You Deal With Pressure. Have frequent conversations, giving your child details from your own life like, “I’m really worried about getting this proposal in by tomorrow. Do you get anxious like that about school?” Or ask, “Are your friends stressed?” Then you can follow up with, “What about you? How are you dealing with it?”
  • Make Time to Connect. Schedule family dinners or get-togethers every week and set it in stone just like sports practice. Use the time to catch up on what’s going on in your kid’s life, including what’s not going well. Stressed kids may feel isolated, which can lead to experimentation with drugs and alcohol. Let them know you love them too much to see them risk getting hurt by experimenting or using.

Learn more ways parents can help their teen deal with stress.

Take a deep breath, fellow parents—we can do this!

Best to you,




Claire Kelly

Mother of two teenage daughters

P.S. Be aware that stress in teens has been associated with abuse of prescription medicine. Our blogger Joshua Lyon shares this related tip:

“If you hear a teenager make an off-hand joke about wanting a Valium to deal with something mildly stressful…then you might already have a problem on your hands. These seemingly innocent remarks could indicate that your teen believes prescription medicines aren’t something to be overly concerned or careful about.”

If you think or know your child is using drugs or alcohol, please visit Time To Act and Time To Get Help.

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