How Teens Cope with Stressful Life Events
Adolescents are in the midst of a sensitive time in life. They're transitioning to adulthood and trying to adjust to new roles. Like a snake shedding its skin, this means peeling back the protective layer of childhood while trying to establish a new identity. This transitional nature of their existence can impact the way they cope with difficult events in several ways:
1. Because adolescents are in the process of trying to establish their independence, they are far more reluctant to open up about their emotions and less likely to admit a need for help in dealing with their struggles. They may even deny the trauma or pretend that "it was nothing." Understand that a nonchalant attitude does not mean your child is either cold and uncaring nor resilient. They may indeed be managing the situation ok, but such a dismissive attitude may also mean that their true feelings are wrapped in a defense mechanism.
2. Therefore you can't assume that just because they put on a tough exterior all is well. In fact, the harder they try to convince you that they are an unshakeable vessel made of steel, the more likely they are to be suffering within.
3. Adolescents are more prone to emotional mood swings. This is partly due to biology and partly due to their changing brain. As a child undergoes puberty, their brain begins to destroy old, seldom-used connections from childhood while simultaneously experiencing a rapid, infant-like growth in other parts of the brain. This reorganization may leave a teen's brain a little out of whack. Teens can also experience larger hormonal shifts, which may impact their mood.
4. Because teens are in the middle of an awkward transition, any setback they encounter is just one more thing to deal with. If you imagine stress in terms of a glass of water, the typical teen's jar is already half-filled to begin with. Therefore each new problem can more easily push them into distress territory.
More importantly, teens are quick to assess their current circumstances as a harbinger of things to come. They're no longer a child, but their experience with maturity is extremely limited. Therefore it's easy for them to mistake a temporary crisis as part of a "new normal" for life. What we see as a minor setback may be viewed by an adolescent as an indication that their life is doomed. Hence one failed romantic relationship feels like the end of the world, because they only have one experience through which to view such a failure. Therefore it's important to help kids this age view adversity through its proper perspective. They don't have a way to view experiences through the bigger picture...you need to provide it for them.
5. Teens are more likely than younger children to become disillusioned and develop a general distrust for the world.
6. Distress often materializes in the form of antisocial behavior. Teens who are struggling and unhappy with the world tend to rebel against all forms of authority.
7. Adolescents may feel more extreme guilt if they were not able to protect loved ones from injury or prevent the loss of someone they cared about.
8. Adolescents are more likely to fantasize about revenge against those they deem responsible for their problems. They are more prone to angry reactions than younger children, and tend to hold onto such negativity for longer.
9. Unlike younger kids, teens are in serious danger of resorting to drugs and alcohol as a means of coping with difficult life events. Parents and other concerned adults need to be alert to signs of drug or alcohol use, and do all they can to snuff it out before it starts. A teen that resorts to substances in order to cope may develop a lifelong habit that never leaves them. There is no miracle cure that combats the allure of drugs. But adult support, as well as efforts to keep teens actively involved in other sources of pleasure (hobbies, sports, etc.), can prevent kids from turning to substances to drown their sorrows.