Teen Stress and the Family – Building Coping Skills
Part 2 of a 2-Part Series
The adolescent years bring a wide range of challenges that have an impact on family, friends, school, and romantic relationships. Healthy coping skills are imperative to a successful transition into adulthood. In the first article in this two-part series, I explained the many facets of adolescent stress and gave a basic overview of what healthy and unhealthy coping looks like. In this article, I want to expand upon how family impacts a teen’s ability to cope, and how coping impacts a teen’s ability to be successful. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I often assess issues and topics by first taking a look at the family system.
The Impact of the Family on Coping
The family is a place for children and teens to begin to learn and establish value systems. Although the family forms one part of a greater system that surrounds teens, it is the single most important factor in the development of an adolescent and their coping skills. Teens are often a direct product of their families, modeling copping skills after their parents and caregivers. For example, a parent who deals with a stressful work day by drinking an entire bottle of wine models alcohol dependence – and their children are more likely to turn to substances to help them cope. Although this is an extreme example, other common adult coping skills, such as overeating, negative self-talk, or withdrawing from relationships, all have an impact on how a teen develops their own patterns of coping. Although teens are capable of learning new skills, it can be difficult to establish long-lasting habits if the home environment is not conducive to developing these changes. This is why parents are often encouraged to participate in the counseling process, so that the changes made in therapy can be continued and encouraged at home.
As my previous article noted, it is important to differentiate between helping your teen to cope and simply removing the obstacle for them. Ensuring that your child or teen has a challenge-free life may seem helpful at the time. But what will happen when they are living away from home and encounter challenges? How will they deal with disappointment, conflict, or failure? A big part of parenting is training your child to be a successful adult, rather than simply ensuring happiness, and a big part of this success is your ability to cope. When considering coping, it is not only important for parents to model healthy behaviors, but they also need to empower their children to develop their own coping skills.
Coping and Achievement
How we manage stressful life events has a direct impact on our ability to move forward and to achieve our goals. The later teen years are filled with anticipating what will come next, whether this is preparing for college or full-time employment. Students without positive coping skills are more prone to view school negatively, which results in test anxiety and low self-esteem. A big part of success in school is not simply doing things correctly, but knowing how to manage challenges, obstacles, and failures. For example, a child with dyslexia is just as capable of success as a child without a learning disability, as long as they are provided with the proper tools to cope with their born abilities.
Christian Counseling to Build Teen Coping Skills
Often parents ask me if I think their teen needs counseling or if the behaviors they are noticing are normal. As a Christian counselor, I often respond by telling parents that if their son or daughter’s depression, anxiety, or poor choices are getting in the way of their success in the family, at school, or with their peers, then they are good candidates for counseling. I have found that symptoms such as cutting, anger, withdrawing socially, or even anxiety, are simply signs that a teen is not coping well with something in their life. If this is the case, we can spend time exploring the root cause of their suffering in counseling and develop new and healthier coping skills. Because a big part of being an adolescent involves separating from one’s parents, a counselor can be a neutral person for teens to talk openly with on a weekly basis. Encouraging your teen to try Christian counseling is one example of modeling healthy coping during times when they are struggling or feeling stuck.
Information Adapted From
Frydenber, E. (2008). Adolescent Coping: Advances in Theory, Research and Practice. Routledge: New York, NY.
“Young Girl Using Laptop,” courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography, freedigitalphotos.net; “Pretty Young Girl and Graffiti,” courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography, freedigitalphotos.net