Six Steps to Less Teen Stress

1. Set sensible schedules. Although empty spaces in calendars can make teen girls and their parents uneasy, make sure your daughter is not overwhelmed by having too much to do. Yes, taking extra or advanced classes may look good on her transcript, but if she is constantly frazzled she won’t perform at her best. Having at least one free period or study hall during the school day offers a chance to unwind, study, do her homework, or meet with teachers. Limit after school commitments and sports to insure your daughter has down time. What may seem like “unproductive” activities—for example, daydreaming, reliving experiences, doodling—are actually psychologically productive for forging strong, positive identities and reducing stress.

2. Maintain balanced lives. Many girls today think that being successful means being extraordinary. They believe they have to excel at everything. That is why so many are experiencing the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation and chronic fatigue on their thinking, physical health, and emotional well being. The most successful teens create a balance of work, play, and socializing. They may study hard, but they are careful to take breaks, rest, and sleep regularly. These girls also carve out time for friendships, which are reassuring and revitalizing during adolescence. So tell your daughter, “No more studying; go to sleep!” and encourage her to maintain age-appropriate connections with her peers.

3. Keep expectations realistic. When parents have fixed ideas of what their kids should achieve, girls who don’t meet those expectations think of themselves as failures. Girls who believe they have to be perfect or please everyone experience the most debilitating stress. It is vital to recognize that not every girl can be an academic superstar. You and your daughter should understand her limitations as well as her abilities. She may not be the best test taker or athlete or musician—at least not right now. She may be a late bloomer or have a learning disability. So keep an open mind. See your daughter for who she really is, and try to sit back and relax while she evolves into the young woman she is destined to become.

4. Minimize anxieties. In this era of pressure about achievement, it is easy for parents to have worries based on their own past successes, disappointments, failures, and regrets. So be mindful of the influences of your own background. While it is natural to want your daughter to have opportunities and successes you were denied, she also deserves the chance to explore what really interests her and discover her own passions. When your own anxiety is under control, it is less likely to exacerbate her stress. That way, she truly gets to star in her own life.

5. Recognize hidden stress. Teen girls are pros at keeping their pressures hidden from the people they most want to please, especially their parents and teachers. Because they don’t want more scrutiny, unsolicited help or advice, or punishments, they avoid making their parents more worried and suffer in silence. So if your daughter is struggling and doesn’t seem motivated to improve, don’t assume she is apathetic or rebellious. Is she often tired, irritable, or whiney? Does she oversleep, snipe at her siblings, or complain about her teachers? If so, ask her, “How stressed out are you? Where is the pressure coming from?” Then together you can figure out how to alleviate her stress and facilitate her success.

6. Get help. During adolescence, girls who value their independence are often reluctant to accept help. Ambitious or perfectionistic girls especially believe they should be able to do everything on their own. Yet give your teen the reassuring message that everyone needs help at some point. Maybe what’s required is a meeting with your daughter’s school to make a change in her schedule, get extra help from certain teachers, or ask for modifications. Testing could pinpoint her strengths and weaknesses. Some girls flourish with one-on-one attention from a tutor. Still others need to talk about their stress and find solutions with a guidance counselor, school psychologist, or therapist. Keep asking for help until your daughter gets what she needs so that she can succeed and feel good about her accomplishments.

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