Everyone has their stress points, and teens are no exception. Here's what they report makes them worry:
- What people think of them. Teens are very concerned that they “select” the right identity. They don't want to be viewed in a negative light (as a “dork,” for example). Unfortunately, dorkhood may encompass many qualities you admire—like making good grades or playing the viola in the school orchestra.
They may also seek peer approval by taking up habits like smoking or drinking.
The stronger a teen's self-esteem, the less prone she will be to tailoring her image to what she thinks her peers want her to be. (See Teens: Defining Who They Are for ideas on building self-esteem.)
- Grades. Believe it or not, most teens—even the cut-up who rides along with the C-average—worry about grades. Good grades are a sign of well-being and achievement, and even though teacher approval may not be as cool as peer approval, it does count.
At heart, kids know that a good grade or some type of honorable recognition buys them the legitimacy they so very much want to have. However, the longer they are discounted as possible achievers, the harder it becomes to get them back on track.
If you're the parent of someone who seems lost, read Homework Tips for Teens, Tackling Tough Reading Assignments, and Underachieving Teens for ways that your teen can be recognized. Your child may not be a math genius or an authority on the complete works of Dickens, but if he can find a subject or hobby at which he excels, chances are good he'll start doing well elsewhere, too.
- Lack of time. Teens, like you and I, are strapped for time. They represent the first of the “over-programmed” generation. (That's what you get for enrolling your kid in dance at age two and karate at age four.) If you didn't teach your kids time management when they were younger, you might want to start now.
Talk to your teen about learning to set priorities and to balance her time. (Maybe you need to conduct a “reality check” on your own schedule, too.) Life holds so many options, but she (and you) can only concentrate on a few at a time.
- Family difficulties. Most teens have perfected the art of acting indifferent to their families, but this nonchalant veneer belies how they really feel. If there's trouble at home (whether it's emotional or financial) your teen is keenly aware of it. Take the time to explain and to reassure as much as possible.
- The future. From getting into college to finding a job, teens are well aware of the need to make a place for themselves in the world and the competition that they'll meet in trying to get there.
Keep reminding your teen of the things she is good at and how her qualities (intelligence, sensitivity, patience, sociability) and skills (being great with kids, well-organized, or a computer wizard) are of value to the world. Assure your teen that there will be a place for her, though what it is and where it is may be a surprise. Encourage your teen to be open to many possibilities; sometimes the path to the future may not be predictable, but it can still be filled with wonderful opportunities.