It’s no secret that levels of anxiety and stress are rising in teens. According to the National Institute of Health, nearly 1 in 3 adolescents age 13-18 will experience an anxiety disorder.
Medical professionals blame high pressure, a threatening world, and social media. While it’s true these obstacles are difficult for teens to escape, there are three powerful things parents can do to help their kid develop resilience against unhealthy levels of stress and come out stronger, too.
Model a Rhythm of Rest
In our society, busyness and a crammed schedule is often seen as the road to success. But without rest, this is the road to stress. God modeled and commanded a Sabbath to remind us to live healthy lives reliant on him. Your kid needs to know that their success does not rest on their shoulders, but in God’s hands. And they’re learning by watching you.
Do you rest or stress?
Model a healthy work/rest rhythm by taking a weekly day off with the family. Consider setting aside this day or at least part of the day to put down phones. In addition to a weekly Sabbath, set aside daily time to rest. When possible, have a screen-free family meal together. Have a set time in the evening when you finish work and homework and talk about your child’s day. Teach them how to wind down stress levels by processing feelings with tools like a gratitude journal, prayer, and time in God’s Word.
Calm Negative Thoughts with the 4:8 Test
Did you know that 80% of our daily thoughts are negative? Your teen’s brain is naturally bent towards negativity. Add to that the comparison, jealousy, and self-image issues that can come from social media, and you have a recipe for anxiety.
In his book Feeling Good, Psychiatrist David D. Burns explains ten negative thought patterns which can lead to anxiety and other mental health struggles.
A few of the items on the list include:
- All or Nothing Thinking: black and white thinking that doesn’t allow for gray area. For example, when your teen gets a grade they don’t like, they may convince themselves that they will fail the class.
- Mental Filter: focusing only on weaknesses and not strengths. This is easy for your teen to do when they compare themselves to celebrities and peers in their social media feeds.
- Jumping to Conclusions: making assumptions about what other people are thinking. If your child’s friend doesn’t sit with them at lunch, they may assume their friend is mad at them. Help your child recognize negative thoughts like these by putting them to the 4:8 Test: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
Your child can ask:
- Am I telling myself something that is true and right, or assumed and imagined?
- Is this thought pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy? If not, I can speak what IS true over the lie.
Love Them For Who They Are, Not What They Do
One of the reasons our teens are facing high levels of stress and anxiety is because their identity is too closely aligned with their performance. Teaching our kids to excel in their activities is not the issue; after all, we want them to succeed, to learn responsibility and to feel a sense of accomplishment.
Teens become stressed when they associate their worth with what they do.
Parents can help by creating a safe place at home where kids can let down and be themselves. With you, they shouldn’t feel pressure to have it all together or display a crafted social media identity.
Make space to spend time with them doing activities they love. Remind them often that they are loved because they are yours, not because of their grades or successes or what they’ve determined is “likeability.” Remind them that their identity is as a loved child of God, and that their weaknesses or mistakes do not define them.
There are many stressful challenges facing your child today. If they’re experiencing debilitating anxiety, please talk with a professional to help them get the proper care they need. But no matter what your child’s emotional state, the first and most important step you can take is helping them feel loved, safe, and accepted just as they are.