We humans are good at finding patterns. This evolutionary benefit has kept us alive longer than the dinosaurs, but it’s not foolproof. Sometimes, these patterns can steer us wrong. As parents, what we perceive to be good and healthy for our kids, might not be the reality. The team captain with straight-As could have an eating disorder. The class president with multiple scholarship offers might be questioning their sexuality. When it comes to identifying how well our kids are managing stress and dealing with substance use, sometimes we miss what is right in front of us.
Teens face an ever-creeping, constant pressure that the decisions they make in high school actively determine their path in life. Their problems might look small to adults, but from where they stand, the difference between low and high performance feels as if it could set them on an entirely different trajectory. The stress and anxiety teens feel about their future takes a toll on their minds and bodies.
How do we take some of the weight off the shoulders of high-performing teens?
Teens learn resilience when faced with difficult situations. In order to build this skill, teens need positive stress in their lives. For most youth, the stress of good grades and high performance as an athlete or musician is exactly the sort of positive stress that teaches effort, focus, determination, and teamwork. Stress becomes toxic when it is ongoing and without buffering. Adults act as buffers by being supportive, responsive, and caring to teens experiencing stressful circumstances. Ask yourself, why is your child’s high performance so important? Is it so they win or are the very best? Or is the priority that they develop esteem, work ethic, and resilience?
When walking the tightrope of encouraging high performance and supporting youth and their mental wellness, remember that most lessons are learned in the losses. We can hold teens to high standards all while demonstrating we care for them when they fall short of their goals.
5 Things You Can Do:
Talk to your teen about what is causing them stress. Let them know they can always come to you if things are feeling unmanageable to work through problems together.
Demonstrate your support and care when they fall short of their goals. Acknowledge both their hard work and their ability to do better next time.
Let teens foster an identity outside of performance. Praise them when they make an insightful comment, do something kind for another person, or creatively solve a problem on their own. Celebrate their effort, not just the outcome.
Set boundaries. Work with your teen to mutually prioritize habits that feed their physical and mental health. How much sleep is right for them? How is social media impacting their mental wellness?
Check out the Developmental Assets® Framework. Learn about the ways you can support, empower, set boundaries and expectations, encourage constructive use of time, while fostering your teens’ commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity.
Kat Barrow is a Community Prevention Specialist at Tri-County Mental Health Services in Kansas City, MO. She earned her Masters of Public Health from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Kat is passionate about creative, inclusive approaches to improving community health and wellness.