~ Emilee Rodriguez, MA, LAMFT
Ah, summer! It is almost here and the glorious days of sleeping in, more time for friends, and sun are almost here for tweens and teens. What should be a much-deserved break can sometimes be filled with stress and anxiety for kids. As parents, how can we tell when our kids are dealing with regular stress or when they are getting more overwhelmed? One important clue can be noticing if it is a transitional time in their lives, which tends to be when more issues and risks arise. Transitions are times when parents should provide more support for tweens and teens.
Moving from one school to another is a transitional time; this could be due to a move into a new district or your child is moving up to Junior High, High School, or is graduating. Other important transitions that impact kids are a sibling going to college, the youngest starting Kindergarten, or the parents separating.
Transitions stress kids. Of course, this makes sense, so why should parents be aware of this as we move into summer? The natural supports that tweens and teens lean on are removed during summer break. The coaches, teachers, school counselors, and friends they saw everyday are no longer around. Developmentally, adolescents are trying very hard to set up boundaries between themselves and their parents. We may notice our kids struggling and wonder what is normal, what is not, and how to help kids who are so determined to break away from us.
Five Easy Steps to Support Kids
All parents of adolescents who are going through a transition can do the following steps to support them.
- Communicate ~ Talk with your kid, empathize with their stress, and validate their feelings. In other words, talk with you kid, sit with them, listen to their struggles, and help them to be okay with different feelings.
- Stay aligned ~ Whether you are together or not, present a united front as parents. Kids do best when parents are aligned. Adolescents are experts at gaining more power in their families by getting one parent to ‘be on their side’.
- Be a good example ~ Model positive coping strategies for your own stress. Eat right, exercise, drink responsibly, take time for your family and your friends, and acknowledge your own stress so others can see you handling it in a positive way.
- Remain vigilant ~ Guard access to prescription medications, tobacco products, alcohol, and firearms in the home. Even though you might not be worried about your own teen or tween in this area, remember that friends of your kids could be struggling and need to be protected.
- Foster mentorship ~ Encourage your kids to talk to other positive adults in their lives. In the summer, this could be relatives, neighbors, or youth pastors. Even though kids might push back against parents, they frequently will be willing to engage other adults in conversations.
When to talk to a professional
There are some situations that warrant talking to a professional.
- If your tween or teen seems isolated or more withdrawn then usual
- If you are noticing more aggression or impulsivity, complaints about frequent headaches or stomachaches, orincreased moodiness you should consider calling a therapist.
- If your tween or teen is struggling to have good friends, seems hopeless or very sad, or has a big shift in eating or sleeping patterns, these are all clues that it might be best to check in with a professional (Peterson, J.S, (2011), in Parenting Gifted Children, p 536.)
- A further area to keep an eye on is your adolescent’s electronic use; either excessive time online or too much time gaming can be reasons for concern.
As parents, we need to be aware that transitional times are times of more risks for adolescents. Research shows us that the shift from one school to another is a time kids are more likely to try substances, struggle with mental health issues, and wrestle with wanting to be independent while still needing to be nurtured, challenged, and protected. Remember to practice the Five Easy Steps to support your kids and to call a therapist if you notice your tween or teen struggling to enjoy their summer.
The Five Easy Steps
- Stay aligned
- Be a good example
- Remain vigilant
- Foster mentorship