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Stress: Impact on Children and Teens (III)

By Dr. Andrea Porter, PhD, C. Psych.

This is the last article in our series on stress in children and teens. Here, we turn our attention to the 12–18-year-olds pointing out the signs of stress for parents and caregivers. As children get older, their sources of stress expand, where events and situations outside of the home can create tension and anxiety for adolescents, more so than younger children. 

It has been widely recognized that teenagers are vulnerable to psychological stress and there are data to show that rates of psychological distress during adolescence increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 13.2% in 2017 (Twenge et al., 2019). Peers can help buffer stress yet can also be a source of it, with many adolescents fretting about fitting in, their first romantic encounter, as well as peer pressure around substance abuse.

Parents and caregivers can be on the lookout for these common signs of stress:

  • Irritability, anger, and neglecting responsibilities.
  • Disillusionment and distrust of the world.
  • Stomach aches, headaches, and panic attacks. 
  • Low self-esteem and rebellion.
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns.

Parents can help alleviate stressful situations by modeling the way. Talk with your teens about how you’ve dealt with your stress. Allow teens to build confidence and be problem solvers by encouraging them to tackle low-level problems. Teach children to be savvy digital consumers by discussing cyberbullying and questionable content. Help them combat negative self-talk when remarks such as “I’m no good at math” or “I’m too fat” are spoken. Re-framing things positively can help build resilience and inner strength against these outside pressures. 

Teaching coping skills can also go a long way to reducing stress, and it is imperative to take a closer look at the risk of substance abuse with this age group. Signals for parents to be aware of include :

  • Declines in personal appearance and evidence of drug paraphernalia.
  • Changes in peer relationships. Friends have the most significant impact on whether your child may be using substances. 
  • School/academic problems.

If parents suspect that their teen is experimenting with drugs or alcohol, ask about their use and share your concerns. Review your family’s expectations, provide education, and ask that they stop. However, if you are concerned that the situation is getting out of hand, get a medical evaluation and seek support. 

Remember that stress affects everyone; it can be a one-time occurrence, or it can repeatedly happen over time. Not all stress is bad, yet ongoing stress can have longer-term consequences, showing up as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, or anxiety later in life. Help your teen take practical steps to reduce the risk of adverse health outcomes.


Citations:

5 Things You Should Know About Stress. National Institute of Mental Health. URL: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/

Hafstad, G.S. & Augusti, E. (2021). A Lost Generation? COVID-19 and adolescent mental health. Lancet, 8(8), 640-641. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(21)00179-6

How to help children and teens manage their stress. (2019, October 24). American Psychological Association, URL: https://www.apa.org/

Substance Use Disorder: Dealing with Teen Substance Use. HealthLinkBC. URL: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/

Twenge, J.M., Cooper, A.B., Joiner, T.E., Duffy, M.E., & Binau, S.G. (2019). Age, period, and cohort trends in mood disorder indicators and suicide-related outcomes in a nationally representative dataset. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128, 185-199.