Helping Teens Navigate Stress: Practical Tips for the Road Ahead

It was a Thursday night, and I remember sitting on my bathroom floor weeping, thinking to myself, “I wonder how long it will take them to notice?”

I was 16, newly licensed, playing high school basketball and club volleyball, attending agility training twice a week, trying to maintain my grades and social life, and extremely tired.

Was I being dramatic?

Maybe. (My mother always told me I “had a flare for the dramatics.”) 

But, whether I was dramatic or not, I was stressed and I did not know how to ask for help.

The Pressures of High School

Reflecting on my years in high school, I think junior year was the hardest. Having worked with teens for the past 13 years, I think a majority would agree. During junior year, a teen’s school workload dramatically increases, people start hounding them about colleges, and they are no longer considered an underclassman. They start to drive and gain more independence, but also more responsibilities. Trying to balance it all can seem impossible and overwhelming.

That pressure to “balance it all” led me to the bathroom floor that one Thursday night. I had just gotten home from practice and had missed family dinner once again. I had hours of homework to do, two tests to study for, agility training early in the morning, and tournaments all weekend long. I was so overwhelmed. I wanted to run from it all. So I locked myself in the bathroom and sat on the floor hoping it would just go away. Looking back, I was obviously over committed. At one point I enjoyed all of these things, but now in the midst of stress and anxiety and did not know how to seek help.

Mental health is rising rapidly — especially within the teenage generation — and we’ve seen the rise statistically in mental health related emergency department visits for ages 12 to 17  (American Psychology Association). But, as adults who work in youth ministry, we don’t need to be told that mental health is declining as stress is increasing, we witness it first-hand in our world everyday. Just simply being knowledgeable of the stress that teens endure is the first step. The next is to be present in their lives, but not in obvious ways. As someone who experienced stress in high school and continues to experience it today, the following are my best tips for helping teens navigate stress.

Five Practical Tips for How to Help Teens in your Life Navigate Stress:

1) Give them space

This sounds counter intuitive, but it’s sometimes what they need. Bombarding them with different resources and self-help videos are not always the right answer for some teens. Sometimes they just need space and room to breathe — space from people but also from activities. And then, typically, when a teen is ready to talk they will let you know.

2) Ask how you can help

Here’s the catch. When you ask how you can help, teens probably won’t have an answer. Sometimes in the midst of stress, we don’t know what we need. By simply asking the question, though, you remind teens that they’re not alone and there is help once they know what they need.

3) Listen

You don’t have to have all of the answers. Most of the time people don’t want answers, they just want to be heard. So give teens space to be heard, without your feedback or opinions. Just provide positive, authentic affirmations and be an active listener. 

4) Get outside and exercise

Encourage outside activity. Don’t underestimate the power of fresh air and movement. Simple things like walks, playing with the dog outside, watching a movie outdoors, or sitting around a bonfire can be good for the soul and help calm the mind.

5) Pray for them

Sometimes we forget about the power of prayer. The way to help a teenager manage stress is to pray for them. We may not have a solution or the ability to help, but God does. 

Be Present

I’m sure you’re wondering, “but my parents did notice?”

My mother found me in my locked bathroom. I let her in, and rather than pick me up off the floor, she sat right next to me and met me where I was at. I may have been known for being dramatic, but she didn’t let that cloud the situation. She listened and asked how to help. I didn’t feel judged, I felt understood. Through the care, love, and prayer that my parents offered, I was able to seek resources and tools to help me manage my stress.

As I always tell teens and remind myself, “Life doesn’t necessarily get easier, but you get stronger through God.”


Sources: American Psychology Association