Consider all the demands you're placing on your teens. Are they overstressed, overscheduled, and overwhelmed? Happiness expert Todd Patkin, co-author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In, shares his tips on how you can help your too-busy teens.
1. Let some things go
All parents struggle with balance between holding the kids accountable and letting them get away with too much. It’s easy to err on the side of having overly high expectations, so evaluate which goals are realistic and which achievements are important. Try to come to terms with the fact that your teen may never get up on time or make her bed before school and realize that neither of those things will ruin her life. Keep the big picture in mind—everyone will be less stressed if you can resist the urge to micro-manage.
2. Get help if needed
You had your “bad” subjects, and chances are your child will, too. If she’s giving it her all but still falling too far below the mark, search for ways to get help. Even with parental support, what a kid perceives as a failure can affect her self-esteem. Get a tutor or ask your child’s teacher if she can spend extra time with her.
3. Teach kids to be easier on themselves
Many students spend more time brooding over the test they bombed than celebrating the one they aced. As a result of magnifying what they see as failures, these teens reinforce a feeling of being “sub par.” Try to direct your child’s attention to the things he does well.
4. Don’t over-schedule
With school, soccer practice, dance class and time with friends and family, it’s easy for kids to become overextended. Parents often don’t recognize the strain until their children become physically affected. Encourage your kids to focus on activities that bring them joy outside of what’s required of them in school. Developing skills in a few things they’re passionate about will help them more than doing a little of everything and burning out. If your teen seems overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to say no to his next commitment.
5. Discuss perceived stress vs. what’s real
Stress and anxiety are insidious: Once they take root in your mind, they grow. It’s easy for every waking moment to be consumed by fretting about what might go wrong. So it’s important to talk with your teen about what’s stressing her out and to help her determine which worries are important and which aren’t.
Explain to your child that it can be productive to worry a little about her upcoming biology test because that will prompt her to study. But it’s not productive (and actually unhealthy) to worry that she might get too many Bs and Cs, which might prevent her from getting into the college she wants. Talk about what reasonable expectations look like for each week.
6. Realize you can sometimes do damage, yourself
Parents don’t set out to hurt their children when they push them to succeed. It’s natural to want your child to realize his potential and maximize every opportunity. But a student who feels embarrassed by a teacher’s disappointment might beat himself up for days if Mom and Dad are also unsatisfied.
Ask yourself these questions when your kids come home with four great grades and one that’s not so good (for example, four As and one B): Do you focus on how great the As are? Or is your first response, “Why did you get the B?” By celebrating the As, you let your child know that getting top marks are the goal in a healthy way. Teens might act indifferent to their parents on the surface, but deep down they really want to please us.
7. Help kids live in the present
If your child obsesses about what he could have done better or what might go wrong, he’ll miss out on living his life. To reduce stress, help your teen focus his attention on the good things going for him now.
And living in the present goes for you, too. Don’t be so focused on your teen's future that you forget to enjoy the time you have with him today. Kids are smart—even from early childhood they can tell when you’re not really “with” them mentally, and that’s how they’ll learn to behave, too.
8. Teach them organization
Knowing exactly where everything is, what needs to be done and the best way to do it is important. Teach your children to keep an updated calendar, make thorough to-do lists and keep their school papers in order. Being organized will eliminate needless worry along the lines of, “I forget what I’m supposed to do for history class tonight!”
Help your teens with school and home to-do lists. Set aside time each week to clean out sports bags and backpacks. Consider designating a homework area complete with storage folders for each child and class.
9. Work toward the big things
You don’t want your kids to make themselves sick over things like finals or college applications, but at the same time they can’t ignore those projects either. Help them approach major milestones with a plan and a realistic perspective that won’t give them ulcers. Sit down with your teen several times a year to talk about upcoming goals and how best to approach them. Until you broach the subject, you might not be aware of how worried your teen is about something. Teach her how to break a big project into manageable chunks.
10. Get them moving
If your child is already involved in an athletic activity, great! It will help him feel more relaxed and stronger and improve his sleep—plus, it’s a natural anti-depressant. If physical activity isn’t part of your teen’s life, encourage him to find a way to be active.
Exercise is one of the most important things we can do to be less stressed and happier. Consider making physical activity a family event. Take a hike in the mountains, swim at the YMCA or walk around the block.
11. Encourage kids to spend time with optimistic people
Get your child to spend time with peers as well as teachers and other mentors who are positive influences. This is also something you can model yourself. Stop having gripe-fests at the kitchen table with your friends if you want your kid to be happier and more positive.
The ability to cultivate happiness and balance is one of the best ways to set your child up for success. Yes, performance is important—but not at the price of your child’s well-being.
*image used for illustrative purposes only