5 ways to help your stressed-out teen

"How can I help my teen when she won't talk to me?"

For parents of teenagers it's a common question. Dealing with your child's stress gets more complicated as their identity and independence develop.

But there are ways to support kids as they navigate middle and high school.

  1. Model healthy habits. Teens today are as stressed as adults. And research shows that many don't know how to manage that stress. Be a model for self-care with regular exercise, good sleep habits, healthy eating and time off work. Your teen will be more likely to make the same choices.
  2. Understand your teen's stress. Your teen might act irritable, put off homework and chores, or withdraw from friends and family. Before reacting, consider what stressors might be causing the behavior you're worried about.
  3. Before offering advice, listen. When teens find their experiences and feelings hard to express, they need open, nonjudgmental communication modeled by their parent. Your first impulse might be advice mode. Instead, take a step back. Ask your teen how they see the problem.
  4. Be a stress coach. Research shows that teens can learn to deal more positively with stress. One idea is to remind your teen of the benefits of mindful attention: "When you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath, refocus on right now and let go of worries about the future."
  5. Watch for distress. If your child appears agitated or in a depressed mood for more than a few days and it's interfering with important activities in life, connect with a licensed mental health professional.
  1. Ehrlich KB, et al. When parents and adolescents disagree about disagreeing: Observed parent-adolescent communication predicts informant discrepancies about conflict. Journal of Research on Adolescence. 2016;26:380.
  2. Bluth K, et al. Response to a mindful self-compassion intervention in teens: A within-person association of mindfulness, self-compassion, and emotional well-being outcomes. Journal of Adolescence. 2017;57:108.
  3. Bethune S. Teen stress rivals that of adults. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/04/teen-stress.aspx. Accessed July 12, 2019.
  4. Facts for families: When to seek help for your child. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/When-To-Seek-Help-For-Your-Child-024.aspx. Accessed July 12, 2019.