Contemporary society presents many circumstances that can encourage stress for teens. One of the chief potential stressors is often found right at home: parents.
That’s not to say parents cause teen stress. Even teens are self-responsible individuals, within the realm of actions open to them. And that’s the key to some of the sources of teen stress. They are sometimes given too much freedom, in other areas too little.
Setting a developing person adrift among the variety of choices available in modern, complex society is a near guarantee for stress. That reaction is fundamentally the result of a perceived, unresolvable conflict between “I must” and “I can’t”. In many cases, it is indeed true that the teen can’t.
No one could reasonably expect a fourteen year-old to know how to negotiate the maze of challenges the modern world offers without good guidance. Few are equipped by parents or nature to do so at that age. One isn’t born knowing how, for example, to earn money, raise babies and deal with adult life – and that knowledge is rarely attained by age fourteen.
But it’s also true that teens are not children. They are very self-aware, have complex systems of values and have some knowledge of the world. They have the ability to begin to exercise their powers independently. When that independence is stifled, opportunities to test guesses and solve problems is stunted.
The results of both these false alternatives – independence in the sense of being totally abandoned to one’s own devices, and lack of independence in not being allowed to make choices and deal with the consequences – will inevitably result in stress.
The former leaves the teen in the position of having to solve problems they simply aren’t ready to solve. The latter makes it extremely difficult for them to gain or expand their ability to solve them.
Teens will often implicitly recognize this when they complain to parents ‘You never let me have my way’, or, “I’m old enough to make my own decisions”. Some parents react dogmatically by declaring that they will make those decisions, others err on the other side by simply throwing off all restraint and allowing the teen to ‘sink or swim’.
Knowing when to do one, when to do the other is every parent’s challenge. But the teen can help themselves and the parents out of this dilemma – and in the process save themselves much needless stress.
Just as they are not children, teens are not adults. But they can improve their situation by demonstrating the first and emulating the second. Paradoxically, voluntarily reaching for responsibility is one very effective way to minimize stress before it builds.
Though responsibility can lead to stress – if met with resentment or fear rather than confidence and persistence – it can also help build those skills needed to head off stress before it grows. When the responsibilities are those the teen is actually, with effort, able to handle the result is confidence building.
The surest way to decrease the stress that comes from fear of failure or of dealing with stubborn parents is to successfully tackle the challenges of school, home responsibilities and other hurdles. Sometimes that will require starting over after initial failure. Teens will learn practical knowledge from undertaking the challenge and build psychological strength from making the attempt.