Now more than ever, stress runs extremely high in schools. Teenagers are very aware of the mounting expectations of prospective universities, and the necessity for some to work while in high school in order to afford the high costs of daily life. We see teens every day look overtired, angry, and otherwise anxious but many of us feel paralyzed in terms of how we can find our way into their world. It can be easy to feel as though a teenager is just being defiant, without considering the steps that can be taken in terms of "lightening the load" of their stress and working together for a positive future.
1) Keep them busy but give them choice
We are all familiar with the age old rhetoric that if you keep a teenager busy, you will consequently keep that teenager out of trouble. At the same time, we are bombarded with messages that teenagers do not have enough downtime. The key to finding balance? Enroll them in activities of their choosing but lessen the achievement goals that you place on them for those activities. If they are interested in drama, enroll them in a drama program but don't pressure them to be the start of the play. If they like sports, allow them to participate in hockey or soccer but don't make success contingent on them being the MVP of the team. It is far more important for them to build positive relationships with team members or those in a drama group than it is for them to be a star. If they are able to rise to that level of success on their own, that's great, but its important to foster an environment where they see those around them as friends and not as rivals. In reality, this is a more important work place and success skill than being constantly competitive.
2) Block out parts of the day to de-stress
Make sure that your teen has a place in the house where they can go to escape. This wouldn't be a 'cool off' corner the way that one would make for young children but rather a part of the house where they can go to do things that they want and not be interrupted by others. It's important to foster the idea that not every part of the day needs to be goal oriented and that you respect a teen's interest in having time for their individual pursuits. Along those lines, try to have at least one family meal a week that is not based solely around going through schedules or going over outstanding assignments or projects that a teen might have on the docket.
3. Encourage them to face their fears
When teens delay or post pone an activity that makes them anxious, this only serves to make the particular activity in question more anxiety inducing the next time around. It can be easy to tell teens that they don't have to attend the social event that they are nervous about or to miss a school trip that they are worried about going to. Instead, consider finding a middle ground. See if you can work with the teen to attend the social event for half of the event length knowing that you will pick them up at a specific time ( unless they call you and say that they want to stay.) Help your anxious teenager think critically about their concerns about going on the school trip and help them to brainstorm ways that they could manage those concerns. i.e. planning to sit with a friend, knowing that they don't have to stay the entire time, having the opportunity to speak with a teacher about their concerns.