Five Coping Skills Teens Need to Know

Building Coping Skills

Stress is not just an adult problem. It’s also a frequent part of the teen experience. Young people experience stress related to school, current events, and preparing for the future. According to a 2022 Stress in America survey, 62% of young adult women report that most days their stress is completely overwhelming. While some stress is normal and can even benefit teens, if not properly managed it can lead to dangerous choices with long-term health implications. As teens learn to navigate challenges caring adults must guide them towards healthy coping skills. 

Preparing Teens to Manage Stress

Managing stress is an important part of building resilience. Having a range of healthy coping skills to turn to allows young people to bounce back from challenges. We hope our children will come to us to talk about the stress in their lives. The reality is they often attempt to manage stress on their own. And in their attempts to reduce discomfort, teens often turn to things that make them feel better quickly. This may include taking part in risky behaviors like drinking or drug use. These short-term “fixes” are often misguided attempts to deal with stress. Equipping teens with a wide range of healthy coping skills reduces the need to turn to worrisome behaviors and supports emotional and physical health.

Equipping teens with a wide range of healthy coping skills reduces the need to turn to worrisome behaviors and supports emotional and physical health.

Adopting a Range of Strategies

The goal is to offer a wide array of healthy strategies so teens have options to draw from when needed. Consider the below coping skills to support teens to tackle stress. 

1) Plan Ahead

We can’t always predict when challenges will come our way. But we can plan ahead. The ultimate way to plan ahead is to … literally make a plan! The CPTC offers a personalized stress management plan for teens that provides a set of strategies to choose from. Share this plan with your teens to inspire them to think about how they will deal with future stress.

2) Break Problems Down

It’s hard to think clearly when stressed because hormones and emotions are running high. The brain has trouble processing information and making decisions. This is true for adults and even more so for teens whose brains are going through a considerable period of growth. That’s why it’s important for teens to take time to process feelings and restore calm before making decisions. Guide them to tackle one problem, or even one piece of a problem, at a time. They could make lists. Map out the pros and cons of each choice. Or bounce ideas off someone else. In short, they’ve got to find ways to break seemingly big problems down into more manageable pieces.

3) Deal with Emotions

Stress causes all kinds of uncomfortable feelings. Anxiety, tension, frustration, and nervousness to name a few. It’s important to release these emotions in healthy ways. Some people find writing about their feelings in a journal to be helpful. Others benefit from creatively expressing themselves through art, music or dance. Some people like to meditate or pray. Talking to a trusted adult or friend about feelings can be healing. 

4) Attend to Physical Health

Exercise is one of the best ways to deal with stress. It’s also important to eat healthy, get enough sleep, and build some relaxation time into busy schedules. When teens are healthy and relaxed they will have the energy needed to endure challenges. So encourage them to get moving, to listen to calming music, read for pleasure, or pursue a favorite hobby.

5) Avoid Stressful Things

While some situations need to be faced head on, others can be avoided altogether. This doesn’t mean running away from problems. It’s about being thoughtful of the people, places, and things that cause discomfort. Help teens figure out what’s causing them stress and encourage them to avoid the stuff they can. This kind of self-awareness is empowering. Read this for more.

Parents and caregivers play an important role in exposing teens to practical and healthy ways to keep stress in check. But you are not alone in this!

Seeking Help

There is no one-size-fits-all way to handle stress. What works for one person might not for another. And there are nuances to every situation. So it helps to have a wide range of strategies to pull from. Above all teens must know they are not alone. There are people trained to help. While it’s clear teens are facing unhealthy levels of stress, some good news came from the Stress in America survey — Gen Z is more likely to seek professional help when they’re struggling. Reinforce that asking for help is a sign of strength. School counselors, health care providers, or mental health professionals are just a call away. If you are concerned for your child, read this piece on getting teens professional help.

About Elyse Salek

Elyse Salek, M.S.Ed. is an Administrative Director of Research at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Her degrees are in Psychology and Human Development from Middlebury College and the University of Pennsylvania School of Education. She is the proud mother of two children.

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