If you have a teen it is hard to not hear the words,  “ I am just stressed out!” on a regular basis.  I don’t remember ever saying that as a teen but I am sure there must of been some version of that saying, although there just wasn’t that much stress when I was growing up.  

Our society as a whole is so much more stressful (I think both real and perceived) and parents often utter the same words. But while the teenage years are sometimes difficult, and may be stressful at times, these years should also be filled with friends, fun and downtime.  There should be “lazy” days to fill with just “whatever”. 

But when I talk to my adolescent patients they tell me quite the contrary.  They are always worried about grades and start discussing SAT and ACT tests long before high school.  They have almost every precious waking hour filled with school (with crazy competitive class schedules), after school activities and homework after that.  Far too many teens are getting too little sleep (do you have a teen that gets the recommended 8 hours/night?), poor nutrition, and too much time on the internet. 

Stressed teens report difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep which may lead to further problems with concentration and mood.  I see many high school students who think they “have ADHD”, who have never had issues before, but suddenly say they cannot focus or concentrate, which may be exacerbated by lack of sleep.  Trying to get them to believe that is not always easy!  Poor nutrition is also a problem as well, but again a teen does not always see “eating junk food” as poor nutrition. Their brains need protein and vegetable and fruits to keep functioning at warp speed, but skipping meals is quite common. 

Stress can often be reduced by parental involvement in daily schedules. I don’t mean that you tell your teen what to do all of the time. But the security that comes from knowing that there is breakfast daily, and that there is a family meal for dinner and that there is a “bedtime” when the computer and phone go dark actually helps make a teens life less stressful. Having parents who sit down to help a teenager see their way through a stressful event or provide wisdom or perspective may also help to alleviate stress. There needs to be a balance of “not being involved” but “being available”.  That is sometimes easier said than done. 

Stress is always going to be a part of life, but teenagers should not perceive that their life is constant stress and anxiety. They have plenty of time for that once they are parents, right?