two young women hanging from yoga hammocks

Distress Signals: Helping Your Teenager Stay Afloat

Modern life can be stressful. There’s constant stimulation from the time we wake up until we go to sleep. Between mass media, social media and the number of people and events we have to interact with, there’s very little down time unless we actively schedule it. And teenagers can be even more vulnerable, having known little else.

recent study of more than 540,000 15-year-olds in 72 countries, carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), reported that emotional well-being is a major concern. Twelve percent on average, and up to 20 percent in some countries, said they weren’t satisfied with their life. Anxiety about school work was one of the sources of stress most often cited by school-age children and adolescents.


Although a little stress can be a great energizer, too much can sap our energy and leave us vulnerable. When teenagers get stressed they can behave in ways that cause parents to feel stressed. Watching out for risk factors can prevent family meltdowns. So keep an eye out for:

  • A lack of sleep or physical activity
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Illness or upsetting events (such as breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend, doing poorly in an exam or on an assignment).

It’s particularly important to be aware that the above can interact to create a background level of stress for a teenager that puts them at serious risk of overreacting to something else: a straw that breaks the camel’s back, so to speak.


There are many sources of stress and one of these is living in an unpredictable world. And, arguably, our teenagers are probably living at a time when life is more unpredictable than it has ever been.

People handle stress in different ways, so try out different ideas and prompt your teenager to work out what works best for them. This could include things like meditation, going for a walk, or seeing a counselor if there are issues they need to get off their chest.

Although it’s not easy to avoid many stressful situations that occur outside the home, there are things parents can do in the home:

Make life at home as predictable as possible. This doesn’t mean living in an army barracks, but having regular routines that everyone knows about will help people get along. You can help establish these and keep everyone informed with regular, brief family meetings.

A communal calendar in a common family area that everyone contributes to can also help act as a reminder of each days’ commitments and activities.

Family rituals can also help reduce stress. One evening a week with no screen time can provide everyone with an opportunity to listen to music together, play cards or a board game, or just talk. Linking this to a family meal when everyone eats together can also be worthwhile. Take it in turns to cook, or share in the preparation.

Going out somewhere together for a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary can be important family events, as long as they don’t create more stress! As kids become teenagers, where you go and what you do for such events may change, but involving teens in the planning and organization can also help them learn important skills.

Since there’s every chance you’re also quite stressed, you and your teenager can try out something new together, whether it’s a yoga class, aromatherapy oils or a cup of chamomile tea. Even if the most you achieve is having a laugh together, that’s also good for relieving stress.