Teens and Stress: Learned Behavior in Family Dynamics

Last week I was having a cup of coffee with my mother-in-law (mil) and I mentioned that I was reading a book called “Mindful Parenting” and in this book the author refers to Generation X as Generation Stress. When I mentioned this, my mil stated: “Stress? What do you and your generation have to be stressed about? You have it made.” Upon hearing this, I immediately felt–stressed. Anxiety creeped up, my hands became sweaty and I chugged my coffee. I just quietly nodded my head and agreed that my generation had it made, and let the subject pass.IMG_2935

My mother-in-law if she had been paying attention– would have seen the physical symptoms of stress manifest through my body. She didn’t note the change in my face(jaw tension), my shoulders rise to my ears, or my sudden need to get up from the table.

Although I did not articulate to my mil why I was stressed, my body let me know that it was there.  What I should have said to her was that a lot more is expected of parents today. There is no escape from work because of technology. Working parents are constantly answering emails day and night–troubleshooting work related problems even on vacation or weekends. Additionally, there is the societal pressure  to be a flawless mom– forever caring, encouraging, loving, and being present for our kids.

And constantly making sure our kiddos are happy–this right here is the cause of so much of my stress as a mom. I am constantly making sure everyone is happy and contented and if they are not happy–I am doing my all to get them in a better mood whether through cracking jokes, comfort food or giving them what they want or giving into their demands (this one specifically for the 4-year-old twins).IMG_3723 (1)It is stressful and exhausting trying to please and make sure everyone is happy. And this stress I feel, (and I imagine so many other mothers and fathers feel) is contagious within the family unit.

So as stressed out parents, we are raising a generation of stressed out kids. And whether or not you believe my generation should feel stressed or not– this stress is real; it does in fact exist. But yet this stress I feel (and I believe so many others feel) is not just contained within ourselves.

Although I think I am masking my stress, it is still there and my kids see it and sense it. As adults we have the skills to deal with stressful situations; our teens do not.  There are neurons in the brain called mirror neurons and whenever you interact with people these mirror neurons are activated. These neurons pick up on what you see, hear, or sense from the other person, and what is observed is mirrored in your own brain. (Think of when you smile at a baby– they always smile back and mirror what they see.)  So too within the family dynamic, kids mirror back the stress of their parents.

Specifically, in teens, there are physical symptoms of stress that should be noted: stress in teens manifests itself through headaches, stomach aches, colds, and visits to the school nurse.book In the book the “Teenage Brain” Francis Jensen writes that there is a biological reason why stress is troublesome in teens: their biological make up at this time creates a heightened response to stress. The hormone THP is

“usually released in response to stress to modulate anxiety, has a reverse effect in adolescents, raising anxiety instead of tamping it down. In an adult this stress hormone acts like a tranquilizer in the brain and produces a calming effect about a half hour after the anxiety producing event. In adolescents THP is ineffective in inhibiting anxiety. So anxiety begets anxiety even more so in teens. There is real biology behind that” (22).

Teens today feel pressure from home, school, friends and the internet and social media. What can you do to help your teen cope with stress? Here are a few tips:

  1. Be a good listener for your teen. Let them talk to you and leave your judgements about teens today versus being a teen yourself –to yourself.
  2. Help your teen to become resilient. This is a skill that needs to be learned. For example: swooping in to call a teacher about poor grade on a test will not help them. Instead have your teen approach their teacher about the test and have them make a plan for better study habits/extra credit/tutor for a weak subject. Give your teen the tools to take the steps to overcome disappointment/challenges. Because life is full of both. IMG_0795
  3. Give your teen a space within the home that is uniquely their own. A basement or even the living room/dining room which are rarely used anymore is a great space to give your teen and their friends to hang out and step away from the pressures of school life.

    de-stress1
    Owen has been working on creating a outside space all of his own.
  4. Note any changes in your teen’s behavior. A sudden lack of interest in an activity or school maybe a signal of something more than stress and possibly depression.
  5. Although my teens will not admit it, being around their younger siblings allows time to de-stress and not take themselves so seriously. Encourage your teen to interact with younger siblings/babysit neighborhood kids. This allows teens to still be able to act like a kid and have fun. destress

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