Most teens (83%) say that school is a significant source of stress in their life. Here’s how you can help your teen manage school stress.
For teens, stress looks like this:
- Getting to school late
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling tired a lot
- Crying a lot…or snapping at you
- Leaving things until the last minute, and then panicking
If you’re like most parents, you want to help your teen manage school stress…but sometimes you’re not sure how. Or you have some ideas about what might help, but your teen isn’t listening.
Laying bricks and a shift in perspective
For most teens, school stress is about grades, tests, and applying for college. Teens worry about keeping up with schoolwork, managing deadlines, feeling unprepared, or disappointing a parent. Only a small part of teen stress is social — about 9% according to a recent survey.
The school stressors aren’t going to go away. So how can parents help teens shift their response to stress?
I’m reminded of a story about a traveler who asked three bricklayers about what they were doing.
“I’m laying bricks,” the first man responded. “It’s hard work and I get home exhausted.”
“I’m building a wall,” the second said. “It’s not that exciting, but it pays my bills.”
The third man, however, looked happy and energized. “I’m building a cathedral,” he said.
Same work, different perspective…and different result.
Parent Strategy #1: Model Perspective
A shift in perspective can create a sense of purpose. Stress isn’t about the events of the day. It’s about perspective. As William James said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
It would be nice if you could just tell your teen to change their perspective on homework, but of course that doesn’t work.
What you can do is to shift in your own perspective — from stress about their homework…to calm.
Stress is contagious. Teens pick up on parent stress, amplify it, and send it back. Pretty soon we’re stressed about their stress, and the evening spirals into chaos. They can’t concentrate on homework. We can’t concentrate on anything. Perspective is lost.
If you’re like most parents, learning to stay calm when your teen is stressed-out is an ongoing project. You might want to check out some quick stress management tools that can help.
Strategy #2: A Twinkle In Our Eye
“The primary goal…ought to be the relationship, not conduct or behavior,” says Gordon Neufeld, author of Hold Onto Your Kids. This suggests another useful strategy: before diving into problems with schedules and homework, spend time connecting.
Connection is one of the best ways to manage stress. Neufeld says that “a twinkle in our eye and a warmth in our voice” create a tangible presence that kids, even teens, can hold on to.
With that in mind, here are some possibilities:
- Spend time. Have dinner together, often, and talk about the events of the day. Spend time at their soccer games, school plays, art shows, and cross-country meets. Be a driver, snack-provider, or car pooler. Spend time in any way that works.
- Share your thoughts. Talk about dilemmas you’re facing, and ask what your teen would do. Invite your teen to do something with you, even if it’s something “for them.” Maybe it’s worth eating junk food at Panda Express if it means an hour of uninterrupted conversation.
- Share your delight. Smile when they walk in the door. Let them know you’re glad to see them.
- Be on their side. When they share a problem, start with empathy. You don’t have to agree. Just acknowledge how difficult the situation is for them. Later, if they’d like some advice, you can help them sort through the problem.
Strategy #3: Solve Problems
If you’re like most of the parents I work with, this is your forte.
It comes last though, because teens need perspective and connection in order to work with you to find a solution.
At this point, the problems are more straightforward (although by no means easy). Your teen might need, a tutor, an academic coach, a classroom accommodation, or a teacher conference.
The fundamental shift: help your teen manage school stress
If your teen seems frazzled, grumpy, or tired too often, she is not alone. Most teens are stressed, and most of that stress is about school. The good news is that as a parent, you can help your teen manage school stress.
Here’s the key to managing school stress: it isn’t about homework, the upcoming test, or even the grade. Like the two bricklayers, teens can see a task in front of her in two ways. They can focus on the stress — the “boring” reading, or the potential “bad grade” on tomorrow’s test.
Or you can help your teen manage school stress with a shift in perspective. You can get to calm yourself, share the twinkle in your eye, and take a new look at solving the problem. With practice, your teen can become one of the 17% of students who enjoy school.
Pat LaDouceur, Ph.D., helps students who are stressed out about school learn the skills, strategies, and mindset they need for academic success in high school, college, and beyond. Her “Skills for Academic SuccessTM” program uses the principles of micro-change to help students study smarter, get better grades, and still have time for friends and fun. As a psychotherapist, Board Certified neurofeedback practitioner, and former credentialed secondary school teacher, Pat knows a lot about learning and the brain. She has taught middle school math, high school chemistry, college social sciences, and has 30 years of her own schooling under her belt. She is the mother of college-age twins, and provides Academic Life Coaching in Berkeley, CA. www.ladouceurmft.com/academic-coaching