If you're the parent of a teen, you may already have witnessed it: hair-trigger moods and drama worthy of a midday soap opera. The frustration and anxiety kids feel about life at this age bubbles up as teen angst.
It may not affect all kids, but it's not surprising when it does. After all, this stage is full of giant social, personal, and physical changes. And those stressful shifts can affect what teens eat, how they sleep, even how much energy they have to be active.
It’s easy for parents to feel helpless, especially when some of that angst is directed at you. But you can help your teen find healthy ways to deal with their feelings -- and preserve your own sanity at the same time.
Schedule Time With Your Teen
Many teenagers actually want guidance from their parents. They just may not want to ask for it.
"The best thing a parent can do is talk frequently and spend regularly scheduled time with their teens," says Ana Radovic, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
The scheduling part is important. School, sports, clubs, time with friends, and after-school jobs can keep their days jam-packed. You can easily fall off their calendar.
So set a time when the two of you walk the dog or run errands together on a weekend afternoon. You may not talk about anything that seems important, but the signal you send makes a difference.
"This will help their teen know they are available when they do need to talk to them about something important," Radovic says.
Set a Sleep Routine
It's easier to be a teen if you get enough rest. It's also easier to be the parent of a teen who gets enough sleep.
Most adolescents need at least 8 hours a night, but many fall far short. (Remember those jam-packed schedules?) When they’re tired, they’re moody and sluggish -- a recipe for extra angst. But with the right amount of rest, they’ll have more energy, make better choices around food and exercise, and just feel better overall.
Help your teen learn to make sleep a priority.That means going to bed and waking up at the same times almost every day, including on the weekend. Other tips may also help:
- Mark out quiet time before bed when you limit TV and other screen use, heavy-duty homework, exercising, and caffeine.
- Dim bedroom lights at night, but make sure your teen gets plenty of sunshine in the morning.
- If your teen likes naps, make sure he takes them earlier in the day and keeps them to 15 or 20 minutes.
- Cell phones and other screens should be turned off or put away at bedtime. The light from the screen and the constant dings of texts make it hard to fall asleep.
The last thing a pouty teen may want to do is get up and move, but it’s one of the best ways he can feel better. Exercise can help burn through anger, frustration, and anxiety. It also promotes better sleep.
So hand your teen his earbuds and send him outside to walk, run, or shoot hoops. It’s a chance to blow off some steam, and he’ll learn a healthy way to deal with stress for the future.
Even better, lace up your shoes and join him outside. Even if you don’t talk or workout together, the example you set is powerful.
Listen, Don’t Lecture
You may be older and wiser, but resist the urge to lecture your teen. It’s more likely to cause hostility and rebellion. Instead, practice "active listening."
This means "listening with an open mind without interrupting, being able to communicate back what you heard that person say," says Alan Delamater, PhD, director of clinical psychology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "Basically it means you are not talking as much as you are listening."
Teens also like to talk about things they are experts in. So ask them to teach you about something, like technology, Radovic says. It's a fairly safe bet that they understand Snapchat better than you do.
Keep Your Cool
When you feel anxious or angry, especially if the cause is your teen, take a breath. Find your own ways to calm down and handle your emotions without lashing out.Remember that sleep and exercise are just as important for you as they are for your kids.
Plus, you’ll model for your teen some healthy ways to deal with stress.
"If you want to be an effective parent of a teenager, take care of yourself," Delamater says.