With the COVID-19 pandemic and the constant racial injustices over the past year, there is no doubt this has been a stressful time for families. But how might the stress that you’re experiencing possibly impact your teens? According to a report in U.S. News & World Report, parents naturally try to protect their children from negativity and adult problems, but because kids are naturally curious and intuitive, they tend to sense and internalize that stress and react. As parents, there are a number of things we can do to rein in our stress for ourselves — and by doing so, reduce the stress we pass along to our young people.
The Trickle Down Impact of Stress
“There’s a lot of research that says when something happens to a parent, for example, if they’ve gone through a discriminatory encounter, this can lead to depression for both them and their child. Our children can internalize things like being sad or angry. That means what’s happening to us can show up in our kids,” says Riana Elyse Anderson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Health Behavior & Health Education, School of Public Health, at the University of Michigan. “While we’re sitting on the couch with our jaws clenched and our legs shaking because of what’s on TV, we’re not talking to our kids about it or trying to contend with what we’re experiencing, and it can show up directly in our kids.”
Also, the amount of stress we’ve been dealing with over the past year is too much. “Our bodies and minds were not built for chronic stress — or how much in a very constant way we have been experiencing the stress we’ve been exposed to and experienced over the past year. We have been in a global pandemic for over a year now. We don’t know when or how it’s going to end, and we don’t know who in our family is going to be impacted,” says Anderson. “Our minds are working overtime to figure everything out. We’re under more stress than we’ve ever been before. So, family is important in both ways — to do very positive-oriented things and attend to ourselves and our stress because it can pop up in our children without us even intentionally wanting it to.” And that stress could make your teen feel on edge, distracted, and distraught.
Strategies for Dealing With Your Stress
But listen, don’t get stressed … about being stressed. You’re human, and it’s natural to feel some anxiety or unhappiness about these challenging times. You love your children, so being a little on edge these days will not ruin them. If you feel you’ve been putting your stress onto your teens, here are four key tactics to deal with it.
1) Be Honest
Are you feeling tense? Struggling with stress? Be honest about it, and don’t try to cover it up. Your teen is wise and will know if you’re trying to pull the wool over their eyes. “If you’re telling them everything is going to be OK and you’ve got it all figured out, but your lip is quivering, they know you’re not quite being truthful,” says Anderson. “The most important thing is to be upfront and honest with your child. Say, ‘Mom doesn’t know everything’ or ‘Dad doesn’t have a handle on things right now’ and invite them into the conversation.” Let your teen know how you’ve been feeling, and ask how the past year has affected them. Also, let your child know the way you’re feeling is not their fault. An open, candid dialogue can help you and your teen feel better and keep stress at bay.
2) Be Gentle on Yourself
Thanks to societal expectations, parents are supposed to be able to raise their children, navigate a once-in-a-generation pandemic, deal with the woes of remote learning, continuously hear about racial injustices across the country, and be able to keep it all together—perfectly and with ease. But we know that amount of pressure is bound to give anyone stress. Again, any anxiety, depression, or uncertainty you’re feeling at this time is warranted and understandable. Be easy on yourself. You are doing the best you can.
3) Unwind Together
Do things with your teen that can help both of you combat stress and lift your spirits. Go for a walk or bike ride together. Take an online yoga class or practice meditation together. Cook dinner together followed by a funny movie or TV series. Find something relaxing you and your teen can do to not only boost both your moods but also give you the chance to spend quality time.
4) Get Counseling
If stress is causing a level of depression or anxiety you can’t shake, reach out to a therapist. If it’s also affecting your teen, seek family counseling. “A good therapist is also a good life coach. They can hold up a mirror and offer you some tips and strategies for how to adjust and adapt to the challenges in your life,” says Mia Smith-Bynum, a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Science in the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland, College Park. Psychology Today offers resources to help find a family mental health professional near you. Smith-Bynum adds, “It is important to take care of your mental health, and psychotherapy is a good thing. It doesn’t have to be this sense of doom or this sense of failure or stigma. It can help you manage the challenges that a lot of people are dealing with today.”