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Help for stressed teens

Teenagers are a lot busier then we ever were: more homework, tests, exams and more pressure to succeed in a world obsessed with money and status. Yes, our children are stressed, with 21% of South African teens saying that they've considered attempting suicide. If you can teach your teen one survival skill, it should be how to manage their stress levels. Here are the answers to your questions.

My teen seems stressed but I don't know why
Your teen could be stressed about any number of things. From the demands of school and extra-curricular activities to relationship problems and, of course, the physical changes of puberty. Remember that pubescent teenagers can be hypersensitive, moody and angry for no real reason at all!

How do I know if my teen is not coping?
You're going to have to watch your teen suffer through many tough exams, broken hearts and lost friends. But how do you know if they're just not coping? These are the signs you need to watch out for:

  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Persistent sadness or depression
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Moodiness, irritability or even aggression
  • Nagging physical symptoms - headaches, stomach problems etc.

As a parent, how can I help my teen?
You need to strike a careful balance between helping them and letting them learn to spread their wings and fly solo. Here are a few tips:

  • Monitor their stress levels carefully take note of their moods, behavior and physical health
  • Be there for them - let them know that you are always there to listen
  • Work on your relationship with them every day
  • Spend quality time with them away from TV and cellphones
  • Teach them stress management skills and practice these skills yourself
  • Monitor their schedules if they're just too busy, cut out an activity
  • Never put unnecessary pressure on them to succeed

What can my teen do to manage stress?
Stress management techniques for teens are not all that different to stress management techniques for mothers! Your teen should exercise regularly and eat properly. She should avoid too much sugar and caffeine and, of course, alcohol, nicotine and drugs.

Your teen also needs to put aside time every day for relaxation be it listening to music or chatting to a friend. If she struggles to unwind you could consider teaching her relaxation techniques stretching and deep breathing, yoga, guided meditation etc.

Teens specifically need to learn to think positively about themselves and their lives. You can help by never loosing an opportunity to tell your teen how well he or she is doing or how good he or she looks. And remember, never set the bar too high for a teen help them to be realistic about themselves and their achievements.

When should I get professional help?
If your teen is anxious and depressed for more than two weeks you should consider seeking the help of a professional. Ask your GP to refer you to a specialist or ask a social worker, your pastor or even a trusted teacher for advice.

Final word
If there's one word of advice it is to work hard to stay close to your teen. Try not to let the busyness of every day life put a distance between the two of you. Stay in touch and you'll be able to monitor their stress levels and help where necessary.

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