We expect a lot from teens. We expect them to reach their full academic potential, to succeed in athletic, artistic, or charitable endeavors, and often hold down a job. They take on roles of responsibility in clubs, teams, families, and their communities. They care for younger siblings, pass standardized tests, plan for their young adulthood, and attempt to keep up strong peer and romantic connections. No wonder they’re exhausted!
I believe that teens can succeed in all these tasks, but I also believe that teens can get stressed and overscheduled trying to live up to all their obligations. I wanted to offer a few tips for you to help your teen keep life in balance.
- Be a good role model. Even taking just 10 minutes out of the day, in a mindful way, and sharing with your teen what you’re going to do with those precious 10 minutes (Read? Meditate? Exercise? Call an old friend?) is a great way to show that taking “me” time is important.
- Make sure your teen does at least one unproductive thing a week. I like to diagnose people with my completely made-up “recreational deficit disorder”: the complete lack of activities that are purely, unproductively fun. I don’t mean texting in the middle of study hall or trawling Facebook during homework time. I mean an activity that lasts at least an hour, without distractions, with no other purpose than enjoyment or relaxation; and where your teen is engaged, and not merely an observer. Examples are baking cookies (and eating them), spending time outdoors, playing with a pet, or learning a craft that is fun but not particularly useful.
- Encourage good sleeping habits. Your teen cannot function well without sleeping well. Teens need 9-10 hours of sleep a night, with the computer off and the phone in another room. If that’s not realistic, make sure they give themselves time to play catch-up on weekends.
- Encourage good eating habits. Teens should be eating about every three hours whenever possible, and they should be consuming high-energy, nutritious snacks to help them function as well as possible.
- Help your teen connect. Your teen needs positive connections with loved ones- family, friends, and romantic partners- in order to be truly at their best. Try to make your positive interactions with your teen outnumber negative or neutral ones. Encourage them to socialize with peers in person.
- Help your teen disconnect. Smart phones and social media can leave us with a feeling that we’re tied to our gadgets. Many teens feel obligated to always be available in some fashion, in case someone makes contact. Explain to your teen that immediately texting back is not mandatory, and easily explained away. Family meals and activities should be “unplugged” time. In addition, encourage your teen to take part in activities such as hiking, yoga, or watching a movie with the phone in the other room- all of these activities can help your teen unplug a little bit.
- Help your teen have perspective. I have known so many teens who feel certain if they don’t [score perfectly on the SATs, get into X college/ win Y competition/ get a job at Z] that their life is over. You possess the wisdom to know that’s not true. Give them the gift of your perspective to help them understand that these might be disappointments, but not insurmountable tragedies.
Do you think teens today are too stressed? If so, what’s the best way to help them?