What do you have to be stressed about? – Part Four

In part one of this series, I provided this list of actions that will help you identify with a teen’s perception of stress and then help them move toward better stress coping skills.

  1. When a teen says they are stressed out: Believe them and act like you believe them
  2. Explore what they see as the sources of stress by asking insightful questions
  3. Refrain from making minimizing comments or giving over-simplified advice
  4. Be content to act as a ventilation source – practice empathy without fixing
  5. When they say “you wouldn’t understand” agree with them and ask them to help you understand
  6. Encourage their connection to groups where they can discuss common stressors with peers and discover better coping mechanisms

Let’s dig into the last two on that list and explore why those actions are important and what they would look like in practice.

Action – When they say “you wouldn’t understand” agree with them and ask them to help you

This is your chance to make a powerful admission. You can try hard to relate to teens by telling them what it was like for you when you were a kid, but that backfires more times than it helps. By telling your story you’ve taken the focus off of them and put it on yourself. Additionally, your stories seldom penetrate the wall of their generational perceptions. Young people have historically seen themselves as experiencing different conditions, opportunities, and difficulties than their parents’ generation. You did when you were a teen.

As the focus on individualism has permeated our culture, the perceived difference of the generation gap has grown cavernous. For every story you can offer from your youth, teens will have 100 reasons their life and experience are not at all like theirs. Your best response when they say “you wouldn’t understand” is to agree. “I couldn’t agree more. The world is changing so much and so rapidly, I wouldn’t assume that there’s much of anything in my experience that looks like what you face every day.” Then be clear on why you want to understand. “I’m going to need for you to help me understand your experience and how you see things. It’s important to me because I want to know how to support you and in the small times you may want some advice or guidance, I can offer that to you from the perspective of where you are and what you’re experiencing rather than what may or may not have worked for me.”

Action – Encourage their connection to groups where they can discuss common stressors with peers and discover better coping mechanisms

In the same way that you needed to own your limitations in the last action, you’ll also benefit from owning that you cannot offer the same kind of help that can be found in positive peer groups. There are a lot more resources for this kind of intervention (especially in a post pandemic context). Schools, community centers, religious organizations all offer group environments for connecting teens to positive peer relationships. I’ve even noticed that some athletic teams are starting to offer opportunities for social-emotional group support. Teens have a much broader reception to the influence of their peers. This is concerning if the influencers are negative. On the other hand, there’s a great amount of help that can be found in positive groups where teens can talk openly about their life and glean ideas on coping skills and reshape perceptions based on what they hear from their peers.

If you can’t find positive peer groups, take action to create one yourself. There’s no shortage of other at-their-wits-end parents, foster parents or youth-work professionals who are looking for similar interventions. Our organization Elevate Youth Solutions offers a training program that you may want to consider for organizing and running coaching groups like we are currently doing on middle and high school campuses in northern California. If you can find a solid, engaging 24–30-year-old to facilitate teen peer groups, we can offer the training that will prepare them to provide mentor-coaching that is effectively helping hundreds of teens who are enrolled in our programs.

Please jump in on the comments and add your thoughts or ideas there. We all have different roles and experiences, so I’d love to hear yours.

Other Blogs in This Series

About the Author: Jack Witt

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Jack brings a Master’s level education in strategic leadership along with a successful training/consulting track record to the Elevate team. His skills include coaching services with a special emphasis on conflict resolution and improving social/emotional intelligence; creating personal development plans for individuals. His training as a certified academic coach and work within for-profit and non-profit corporations has given him a unique and valuable perspective which he contributed to the development and deployment of the EYS program.


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