Helping Teens Manage Their Stress
Teen Stress Management
Teenagers face a variety of stresses. For some, it is trying to balance a part-time job with mountains of homework. Others may deal with peer pressure around substance abuse or sex. But chronic stress —from financial insecurity, dysfunctional family dynamics or bullying —is different. Left unchecked, long-term stress can contribute to a long list of physical and mental health problems.
Nearly three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, mental illness is at an all-time high—especially among youth. Between 2016 and 2020, the number of children aged 3 to 17 diagnosed with anxiety grew by 29% and those with depression by 27%, according to a study published in 2022 in JAMA Pediatrics.
As children get older, their sources of stress expand. Teens are more likely than young children to become stressed by events or situations outside the home.
Parents and caregivers can help their teen with stress management by learning to recognize the signs of stress and teaching them healthy ways to cope.
Recognize the signs of stress
Signs of stress in youth can show up in a number of ways:
- Irritability and anger: Children don’t always have the words to describe how they are feeling and sometimes tension bubbles over into a bad mood. Stressed-out kids and teens might be more short-tempered or argumentative than normal.
- Changes in behavior: A young child who used to be a great listener is suddenly acting out. A once-active teen now doesn’t want to leave his room. Sudden changes can be a sign that stress levels are high.
- Trouble sleeping: A child or teen might complain of feeling tired all the time, sleep more than usual, or have trouble falling asleep at night.
- Neglecting responsibilities: If an adolescent suddenly drops the ball on homework, forgets obligations, or starts procrastinating more than usual, stress might be a factor.
- Eating changes: Eating too much or too little can both be reactions to stress.
- Getting sick more often: Stress often shows up as physical symptoms. Children who feel stress often report headaches or stomachaches and might make frequent trips to the school nurse’s office.
Stress management for kids and teens
Facing stressors is a fact of life, for children and adults. These strategies can help keep stress in check:
- Sleep well. Sleep is essential for physical and emotional well-being. Experts recommend nine to 12 hours of sleep a night for 6- to 12-year olds. Teens need eight to 10 hours a night. Sleep needs to be a priority to keep stress in check. To protect shut-eye, limit screen use at night and avoid keeping digital devices in the bedroom.
- Exercise. Physical activity is an essential stress reliever for people of all ages. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 60 minutes a day of activity for children ages 6 to 17.
- Talk it out. Talking about stressful situations with a trusted adult can help teens put things in perspective and identify solutions.
- Make time for fun—and quiet. Just like adults, teens need time to do what brings them joy, whether that’s unstructured time to read or uninterrupted hours to practice music or art. Also, while some children thrive bouncing from one activity to the next, some need more down time. Find a healthy balance between favorite activities and free time.
- Get outside. Spending time in nature is an effective way to relieve stress and improve overall well-being. Researchers have found that people who live in areas with more green space have less depression, anxiety, and stress.
- Journal. Research has found that expressing oneself in writing can help reduce mental distress and improve well-being.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry:
Stress Management and Teens (aacap.org)
National Education Association
How to Help Children and Teens Manage Stress | NEA