Teens and stress

Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? 

I have some recollections of the emotions I felt: I feared that the inner dialogue in my head was somehow shouting out to everyone around me. Of course, it wasn’t. But the crushes, the school pressures, the dynamics of my family life were all bubbling together inside me like they were in a pressure cooker on high with the lid on tight. 

On occasions when the pressure and the heat got to me, my anxieties would explode into tears. 

I had emotions that had been spinning around for so long, I couldn’t identify what they were. 

Now I watch my son, a sophomore in high school. He’s one life-loving individual. He exudes joy.  

But I see glimpses of stress in his eyes and exhaustion from the schedule he keeps. 

When I parent reactively to his latest grade — or my bad day — it’s as if I’ve placed a heavy weight on his back. 

I have to remember again what it’s like to be where he is. 

Pressure that once was mine

For the first time, I’m seeing how he deals
with pressure. 

In years past, I’ve taken on his pressure. I’ve made all his meals, reminded him to start homework, driven him to his extra-curricular practices to make sure he was on time. 

But things are switching over. 

He has to write his assignments down and study for his tests. He has to remember when an extra practice is called by the coach — who communicates only with his players. He has to evaluate what’s best for him to eat when he’s ravenous after school and has practice to get to soon.

When I think about all this, I see it’s not just the stuff he’s reacting to, but also the pressure of prioritizing these things that makes him visibly weary.

Freak out and eat ice cream

I liken this pressure to my adult stresses — the traffic I have to sit in that makes me late for an appointment. Did I remember to pay that bill and was it yesterday that it was due? 

There’s my to-do list that never seems to be done — and you want me to bake something for what tomorrow?

Sometimes I just want to blow a whistle and yell “STOP!” 

Everybody stop and remain calm. Lets just go eat ice cream and forget our schedules. 

Although, that Italian sorbet I love isn’t THAT bad for me, I still have to be the one who demonstrates steadiness in the midst of the storm. 

How do I deal with stress?

At moments like these, a take deep breath and a look inward. How do I deal with stress? 

Sometimes, I need just to rant a bit to someone who won’t judge my grumbling.

Verbally processing for me is like taking the lid off the pressure cooker and giving its components a gentle turn or two. 

I’ve been inviting my son to do that lately. Especially, when I see that inner pressure churning in him. 

I ask him pointed questions: Are you feeling bummed out because you thought you would do better on that test? Is losing that match weighing on you? Are you tired? 

Libby Marx, a Twin Cities therapist who works with families, teens and children suggests leading by example — and having strategic conversations with our kids when they aren’t stressed: How do you handle stress? Do you have self-regulatory techniques like exercise or relationships that help? Focus on what you can control.

Listening up

I know teenagers don’t talk. (Well, on some occasions this really is true.) 

But I think teens want to talk. I think they want to let the steam out, to sift through the stresses and pressures that get all melded together if they’re trapped inside too long. 

I’m doing my best to not be reactionary, not to parent out of my stress. And to be a good listener. 

And if sorbet needs to be involved every now and then, so be it!

Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband, and daughter and son, ages 11 and 14. Send comments, questions and story ideas to jwizbowski@mnparent.com.