How is that for an opening few lines in a blog I recently read?
According to this blog, the human brain does not fully develop until about age 25 so there is plenty of room for vulnerability in the adolescent years. The area of the brain most vulnerable to stress hormones is the prefrontal cortex. Here is where intelligence, learning and impulse control are located. When stress hormones enter the picture, struggle ensues.
Further, the same blog cited a study that found “91 percent of kids say what stresses them most is how stressed their parents have become, and 69 percent of parents were oblivious to the impact their level of stress is having on the kids.” Ouch!
This lines up with the findings from a study by the Families and Work Institute which found that what kids want most is “stress-free parents”. Kids are quite adept at picking up on a parent’s stress level. Kids look for non-verbal cues, like sad expressions, heavy footsteps and/or consistent fatigue.
What shall we do then? I submit a few ideas as logical solutions, flowing from the findings above:
- Appreciate the vulnerability of the teenage brain – This cannot be over-emphasized. The adolescent brain is constantly shuffling and its doors hang wide open for emotional and cognitive “guests” to enter. Teenagers are finely tuned to see events, words and emotions larger than we imagine. Our response may be: “No big deal.” Their response may be: “Biggest deal ever.”
- Understand the traumatic effects of stress – Even the mildest form of prolonged stress can have long lasting effects on our psychological state. Youth who experience stress at school and then come home to stress find little to no solace anywhere in their known world. The enduring struggle to rise above the stress has traumatic consequences.
- Lower your stress level – Our best practice, as parents of adolescents, is to work on lowering our levels of stress. As we take care of our physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual health, we operate more efficiently in providing safety and care for our children. This is especially true with managing our stress. It is an illusion to believe we can mask or hide our stress from our teenagers, a group for whom which almost everything is magnified. Care for yourself and you will be caring for your teenager.
- Spread the word and care as a community – Lowering stress in one’s own life is not easily accomplished in a vacuum. We need to educate those around us about the traumatic effects of stress on youth. By involving our community in the conversation about stress and youth, we can begin creating a more caring and accountable community. The results could be widespread, with parents hanging out with low-stressed parents who together are rearing low-stress kids.
* For more information on caring for children and youth after trauma, visit our youth ministry tools and training pages.