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Managing stressed teenagers: part two

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 second piece of our series, our panel of experts give their views on some timely issues.

Problem: There is a schism between parents and teens

‘In a recent survey by young people’s organisation NCS, half of the teens said that they were worried about disappointing their parents,’ says Janey Downshire, teen development counsellor and co-founder of Teenagers Translated. ‘The same study found many adults are struggling to understand the concept of teenager stress, with nearly 40 per cent thinking they are exaggerating and 15 per cent not believing it.’

Learn about teen behaviour. ‘Parents need to understand their teenager’s changing behaviour,’ she says. ‘Our advice is to keep up to date with any research (for example, we know the teenage brain is vulnerable – due to plasticity – to addiction) and carve out time to have discussions where the youngster is encouraged to set the agenda. Parental unconditional love and support during the vulnerable teen years is vital.’

Problem: Bullying is still rife

‘An online survey discovered that almost half of respondents aged between 11-16 had been cyberbullied at some point,’ says Anastasia De Waal from Bullying UK. ‘Confrontational bullying also remains an issue, especially at school (95 per cent of incidents), and mostly consists of name-calling (83.2 per cent). More than a third of children did not confide in their parents.’

Discuss mobile and internet use. ‘We encourage parents to talk to their children about how, when and why they use their mobile phone or the internet,’ says De Waal. ‘Help them to block online bullies and recognise online unpleasantness for what it is. For face-to-face bullying, you can request greater supervision at school, especially of unmonitored areas such as the toilets. And invite a number of other children around regularly to help forge stronger friendships.’

Problem: The breakdown of adult relationships

‘Latest government statistics estimate that 42 per cent of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce,’ explains leading family lawyer Ayesha Vardag. ‘Although divorce per se isn’t bad for teenagers, all the conflict and unhappiness that can go alongside it can cause problems. A child is like a psychological sponge, soaking up all the arguments, bitterness and bad feeling expressed by those around them.’

Keep things amicable. ‘Try to discuss everything together as a family, keep things as amicable and as honest as possible and don’t disregard your teenager’s feelings,’ she advises. ‘Explain everything to them with sensitivity and candour. Talking to a counsellor (either individually or as a family) or a trusted friend may help them. Reiterate that the divorce is not their fault, that they shouldn’t blame themselves. Be good-natured, not petty, when working out a financial deal, and don’t sweat the small stuff. And never use the children as emotional leverage.’

Problem: Fleeing the nest can leave them flailing

‘Teenagers are often very well supported in their final year in sixth form, but they may need help so that they don’t become a ‘falling fledgling’ when they then go off to university,’ Dr Richard Bowskill, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital in Brighton and Hove, says. ‘It’s a time of enormous change in their lives; they’ll probably be living away from home for the first time, dismantling old friendships, ending romances, as well as discovering how to become more independent learners.’

Know limits. ‘Parents can assist this transition by talking to them on an adult-to-adult basis and help them to learn their own limits, for example, discussing ways to negotiate safe alcohol consumption – helping them to understand alcohol units,’ he says. ‘Encourage them to contact the university in advance to access extra support if they already have anxiety or depression.’

Photograph: iStock

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