Our children are faced with more stress and societal pressure than ever before. Girls are bombarded with images of half dressed woman with air brushed bodies in magazines and on billboards. In some countries girls are expected to behave in a certain way. In France for example, girls are expected to forgo the sport of football in favor of something more girlish. Boys face increasing peer pressure and bullying in school. And schools are more focused on testing with less regard to personality or learning styles. Factor in cultural differences and language barriers and you can find yourself with a teenager who is confused, angry and anxious without even realizing why.
This myriad of feelings often makes it difficult for parents to help. Adolescents are notoriously sensitive when it comes to parental interference and if your kids are anything like mine (fluently bilingual), strong accents and grammar slips in our second language don’t help the situation.
So, what can we do to help? Before your child becomes a teenager, encourage a positive relationship with another adult you trust. This can be a friend, a relative (Skype and FaceTime makes it easy to remain close) a teacher or anyone you feel your child will connect with. Older siblings can also help you to understand what your child is going through when times get hard.
When you see your adolescent is stressed, gently ask if there is anything you can do to help. Take her to a favorite restaurant for some quiet, one-on-one time together or do some other fun activity that encourages bonding. Talk to the adult your child is close to and urge her to spend some time with your teen.
And rather than focusing on what is causing the stress (unless you suspect it is bullying), find ways to help your child alleviate some of the pressure he feels. Cook healthy foods; encourage exercise through family outings in the mountains or walks along the beach and make sure they know you will support them during tough times. Try to slow things down at home so they can de-stress and rebuild their self esteem. Be there to listen and tell them you love them through your words and actions. And encourage good sleeping habits.
Of course this is easier said than done when you have a sullen, non-communicative teen on your hands. But keep at it, they need to know you love them and are available when they are ready to talk. We tend to push our sullen or angry teenage children away when they need us and a support system the most.
Australian author Maggie Dent has written extensively on children and adolescents and has an pragmatic perspective on child rearing. She lists the following as the primary causes of stress in teenagers:
- feeling excluded, separated or unloved (e.g. friendship battles especially bullying, rumors, mean or hurtful things being said to them, getting dropped from football team, not getting a part in the school play, having no-one save a seat for them on a bus, not being invited to a party or a school formal, trip to movies, when people ignore them)
- feeling ugly, dumb, not good enough (e.g. failing a test, not understanding school work, finding homework too hard, missing a goal, getting sanctioned for a poor choice, having acne, not having ‘cool’ gear, forgetting to do homework, thinking they are fat)
Maggie says that it helps when children are reminded they are loved unconditionally, that things do get better when they reach their 20s and that making mistakes is a way of learning how to make better choices.
The thing to take away from this article is that our children need loving guidance when they are inclined to reject us the most. Stay strong, stay compassionate and let them know they are loved and valued.
Here’s an article from Psychology Today that gives advice how to find out what’s bothering your child.