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

In my trainings for youth work professionals, I talk about the importance of perception a lot. I’m typically concerned about an adult’s disconnection from the way that a teen sees, understands, or interprets the situations of their life. When I talk to adults about the subject of teens and stress, it’s the adult perception that presents the largest barrier.

This barrier is called the selective perception bias. Selective perception is a (mainly unconscious) thought process where you only perceive what you feel is right based on your previous experience. You “select” that view and ignore or dismiss any opposing viewpoints. In the case of a teenager’s comment about being stressed out, you only see the picture of legitimate stress as you experienced it in the past or currently perceive it. In that selection, a teen’s complaint about being stressed is minimized and disregarded.

It’s natural that you would compare how a teen is dealing with pressures by comparing them with your own. An unrelated adult might look at a thirteen-year-old complaining about being “stressed out” and think, “Listen honey, you don’t have to pay for car repairs while you’re still making car payments, deal with kids, step-kids, marriage problems, unreasonable supervisors, fighting over medical insurance claims, paying taxes. When I was your age, I had no worries at all… you got nothing to be stressed about!” The parent of that thirteen-year-old would offer that same list of pressures and then add, “and you also don’t have to deal with a whiny-assed kid like you!”

I understand, but I also know that when I hear people say, “I remember what it was like to be a pimple-faced, awkward teenager” that they probably don’t. According to researchers, our brains don’t hold memories like video recordings. We store pieces of memory, and when we try to recall that information our brains create educated guesses to fill the gaps based on what seems likely given our current knowledge of the world. In other words, we are regularly constructing false memories from the information we currently have and creating a plausible picture of how things were in our past. Kind of scary, but at the same time helpful.

Making comparisons between a thirteen-year-old’s perception of stress and your own (faulty-memory) experience as a teen or your current stress contributors will create a selective perception bias and prevent you from engaging with them in a meaningful way.

I’m listing some action steps here that you can take to improve your engagement with stressed-out teens. Over a series of future blogs, I’ll dig into each of these steps a bit further to help you adapt them into your mentor-coaching or parent-coaching competencies.

Action Steps…

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

That will do for now. I’ll post follow ups to explore that list in greater detail so watch for those or subscribe to our mailing list to get access to them when they publish.

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.



  1. Leda May 5, 2022 at 10:33 am - Reply

    It is necessary and good resource for the socioemotional development of the teens, and mental health.

  2. Tim Kemptner May 9, 2022 at 10:04 am - Reply

    This is really good stuff! I know that if I don’t make the effort to really listen to my teens–to try my best to look at things from their perspective–they simply will feel overlooked and uncherished. If I want to have a voice in my teens’ lives, I realize that I have to first (and always first) LISTEN…quietly…with my mouth shut…and keep a ‘poker face’ when they tell me semi-scary things about how they think and feel.

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