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Managing stressed teenagers: part one

Exams, social media, body obsession – many experts believe teenagers are under more pressure than ever before. What can we – and they – do to help? Martha Roberts seeks expert advice

by Psychologies

Teenagers have always been a worry. Back in 1904, psychologist Granville Stanley Hall said that a world of ‘temptations, prematurities, sedentary occupations and passive stimuli’ was making it a treacherous time for adolescents. Yet many experts – and many in the general population – believe that their world in 2016 is more hazardous than it’s ever been. So what can we do about it?

In the first of our series, our panel of experts give their views on some timely issues.

Problem: There’s intense pressure to succeed academically

‘By the time children hit the teen years, most parents are so panicked by the need for stellar exam results that we’re on their case almost all the time,’ says Tanith Carey, parenting expert and author of Taming the Tiger Parent: How to Put Your Child’s Well-being First in a Competitive World (Little, Brown, £8.99). ‘But imagine how you would feel if you found your boss waiting at home for you every night to grill you on your performance? Yet we feel entitled to bombard them with suggestions about what they should be doing better.’

Stop acting like a career coach. ‘British youngsters are already the most tested in the world and get so many assessments that it’s likely your teen will know exactly how they are doing,’ she adds. ‘Skip the performance reviews and let home be a haven from the pressures of the outside world, where they can relax and recharge. Whether it’s walking the dog or having a drink together in a café, find regular slots for the two of you to be together, no strings attached and no pep talks.’

Problem: They are overprotected and lacking in resilience

‘When we were younger, we went around relatively unsupervised and learned to solve problems, and negotiate and manage situations by ourselves,’ says Dr Claire Bailey, GP and founder of ParentingMatters.co.uk. ‘But now we massively over-supervise our children, for example, constantly checking on their whereabouts. In a bid to keep them happy and comfortable, we are actually preventing them from naturally developing their own resources and resilience to handle life.’

AIM for emotional resilience. ‘As well as encouraging physical resilience – for example, allowing them to go out to play by themselves – it’s important to encourage emotional resilience,’ she continues. ‘Don’t take ownership of their problems; don’t jump in and criticise their choices. Remember ‘AIM’ when communicating with them: say ‘Aha’, then ‘I see’ then ‘Mm’ rather than saying ‘Why are you doing that?’ Let them make their own choices, solve things their own way and make mistakes.’

Problem: They are on the frontline of our 24/7 world

‘The fear of missing out on what others are doing, coupled with the development of technology, including wearable technology, makes it difficult to escape the 24/7 world. Using more than one device at a time is tempting, but we know that can increase the sense of pressure,’ says Dr Mark Winwood, clinical director for psychological health at AXA PPP healthcare. ‘People sharing their highs (without the lows) online leaves some teenagers feeling their own lives are imperfect, plus the pressure to be ‘always on’ can lead to sleep being sacrificed too.’

Screen their screen time. ‘Putting a stop to screen time an hour before bed and resisting the impulse to check messages during the night is a start,’ he suggests. ‘It’s important to remember that multitasking (or multiscreening) is not helpful. Adults should be good role models, too. Aim for a good night’s sleep and look to catch up with friends in person the next day.’

Photograph: iStock

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