Stress and teenagers

Side view of girl with hand on cheek
Side view of girl with hand on cheek

 Side view of girl with hand on cheek

It’s very common for young people to feel stressed out from time to time. Stress is a normal part of life and can even be beneficial in some situations. However, if you’re worried that your child is under a lot of stress and it’s been going on for a while or is affecting their everyday life, there are things you can do to help them.

This article can help if you want to:

  • learn about the causes of stress and how it can affect your teenager
  • be able to spot the signs of stress in your child
  • help your child manage stress more effectively.

Young people and stress

Stress is a serious health concern for young Australians. In 2015, a research study by Mission Australia found that almost 40 per cent of 15- to 19-year-olds are very concerned about their ability to cope with stress.
Stress is a normal part of life for teenagers and can be caused by many different things. The more we learn about stress, the better able we will be as parents to model the behaviours that can help our children learn to cope better with stress. Learning about why we get stressed and how to manage it more effectively is a great skill for life.

What is stress?

When we are faced with a situation that we perceive as threatening, our in-built ‘fight or flight’ stress response mechanism kicks in. The brain puts the nervous system on alert and releases hormones such as adrenaline which produce a physical response: our heart beats faster, we might find it hard to take a deep breath, our palms could get sweaty, and our body feels ready to fight. Usually, once the cause of the stress is removed, the physical reaction to it will go away, too.

In some situations, stress can be a good thing, for example, when we’re about to take on a physical challenge or if we need to get out of a dangerous situation. It’s normal for young people to feel stressed about things like upcoming exams or a big sporting match, and this form of stress can help them stay focused on what they would like to achieve.
However, if we are constantly living in a heightened state of stress, the body becomes exhausted. Health issues can then arise, such as decreased immunity, poor digestion, or mental health problems.

Causes of stress for teenagers

Common things that teenagers say cause them stress include:

  • homework and school (especially exams)
  • expectations and pressure to do well at school from parents and family
  • their social relationships with friends and boyfriends/girlfriends and the issue of sex
  • life challenges, such as leaving school or getting into tertiary studies or employment
  • lack of time - having too much to do, feeling unprepared or overwhelmed
  • lack of sleep.

If you suspect your child is stressed, talk to them to try and determine if these or other things are going on. If you can identify why they’re feeling stressed, it will be easier to help them address the cause and manage their stress appropriately.

Signs of stress to look out for

Stress affects people in different ways, so it can be difficult to know what is normal stress and when you have cause to worry. Changes in your child’s behaviour that might indicate high levels of stress include:

  • increased nervousness or anxiety
  • inability to cope, or feeling overwhelmed
  • different eating habits
  • different sleeping habits
  • trouble concentrating
  • inability to switch off
  • increased irritability.

If you’ve noticed these behaviours and they are impacting your child’s day-to-day life, there are steps that you can take to help them manage their stress.

Seek support if necessary

Stress that hangs around for a long period of time can be harmful to your child’s health and wellbeing. If your child has been showing signs of stress, try our suggested strategies to support them. However, if your child has been stressed for a long period of time, or if nothing seems to be helping, it’s a good idea to seek some outside help. Have a chat to your family doctor, or consider giving your child an opportunity to talk things over with a counsellor.

Find things to try to help your child with stress.

Page last review by ReachOut Parents Clinical Advisory Group on