JJ Virgin: With long hours at the office, financial pressures and constantly buzzing tech gadgets keeping them awake, adults are more stressed than ever. But a 2009 survey by the American Psychological Association shows that teens and tweens are experiencing more stress, too. And often parents don't realize it.
Nearly half of teens surveyed say they worried more in 2009 than in previous years, but only 28 percent of parents said their teen's stress levels had increased. Almost half of teens and 39 percent of tweens said they have difficulty sleeping. And numerous studies show that stress and lack of sleep can pack on the pounds and lead to other health conditions.
So, what can parents do to help a teen or tween cope with stress?
1) Encourage them to keep a consistent bedtime.
I have teens in my house, so I know they hate being told when to go to bed. But pulling an all-nighter to cram for a chem exam, then trying to catch up on sleep on Saturday morning is not healthy. It's best that they get a consistent 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep each night. (Teens need more sleep than adults, even though they often resist.)
2) Don't overschedule.
Teens and tweens need time to unwind between activities. Scheduling back-to-back cello lessons and swim practice and tutoring sessions sets them up for stress. Help them prioritize and make time for homework and relaxing.
3) Model healthy habits yourself.
If your teen or tween sees you chowing down on chocolate cake after a stressful day, don't expect them to reach for carrots and celery. Instead of modeling "bad behavior," try to find healthy outlets for stress relief yourself, such as going for a walk or indulging in a soothing bath scented with lavender or vanilla. By teaching your kids how to manage stress now, you'll be helping them build healthy habits for the future.