Dealing with stress is just a way of life for our students. According to the National Institute of Mental Health 62% of college student said they feel overwhelming anxiety which is up from 50% in 2011. Teen stress and anxiety is a growing epidemic. As recent as 2018 1/3 of teens reported feeling anxiety to a significant degree. Not only is becoming more and more prevalent but teens aren’t recognizing the mental and physical effects of stress and anxiety.
School was a major factor of this stress and anxiety for all age groups.
So with the school year starting back up how can we help our kids and teens handle all this stress in a healthy way?
Get Professional Help
First of all, we must recognize that you can’t always pray the stress away. Yes, I understand what Philippians 4 says and I believe Christ does guard our hearts and minds (that verse is almost a mantra for me) BUT (and that’s a big but) mental disorders such as anxiety are health issues and must be treated with the help of a doctor.
You can do what is spiritually wise and physically prudent at the same time. It’s our role to help dispel the myth that anxiety is solely a faith issue. Getting help and taking medications for mental health does not mean our faith is weak or we are any less of a Christian.
Point them to Scripture
We should always do what is physically wise but also be aware that there is a spiritual component to everything we do. As such God’s words give us great advice on dealing with stress. There are multiple stories of people being in terrible circumstances and God coming to their aid. Elijah the prophet wanting God to just take him (1 Kings 19), the immense sorry King David had after Bathsheba and the death of his infant son (2 Samuel 12), or the early church leader Paul and his “thorn in the flesh” (1 Corinthians 12).
In each of these cases people were under extreme circumstances (whether brought on by themselves, others or just life) that caused them incredible stress. Each time they cried out to God and their needs were met. Maybe not in the way they envisioned but God walked with them.
Point your kids to what God says and then show them how God will not only be with them during their trials but how those trials can even make them better!
Limit phone/screen time
With everything students are expected to do, sleep sometimes falls by the wayside. For example, my daughter is a senior in high school and works at a local trampoline park. There have been several times she gets up for school, goes to school all day and then immediately goes to work where she will close at 9, drive home, grab a snack, do homework, shower and then sleep.
But when she has her phone with her she will lay in bed scrolling Instagram and snapchat not realizing how much time is going by. She also gets notifications during the night that interrupt her sleep cycle.
Limit that time and have students turn in their phone or at the very least put it on airplane mode. Phones at night can be a tremendous drain on sleep (resulting in higher chances of stress and depression) but also contributes to anxiety but increasing the pressure they feel to respond right away. If parents can remove that pressure, students will sleep better which has all kinds of health benefits.
Our schools are really pushing growth mindset which I LOVE! Speaking life over your situation is something that God calls us to anyway. He’s the originator of the growth mindset. So speak that over your teens.
Something I tell my children is that they are God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2). That they are created in Christ to do good things. So go do those good things. They were made to do good in this world!
Far too often kids are told they aren’t good enough, old enough, big enough. But Jesus says differently. All through scripture we see God choosing young men and women to make huge impacts. Speak that over your students as much as you can at home.
Help students see how God can use them to be kingdom workers and then release them to do so. Dream God sized dreams and God will make them realities.
Engage their Interests
We’re all uniquely gifted to do different things. What do your teens like to do? What do you like to do? What could you do together? How can God use those interests to make a difference in the schools and neighborhoods you live in?
These are all important questions. Brainstorm ways to make an impact with your kids. Don’t drag them to things they may like. Find out what they like and then support them in that.
Your family’s story is a part of this massive play where God is author, director and star. Show your kids how their supporting roles are crucial to that play. Those good works they were created to do can help students see that their hobbies, talents and interests can be used to make their schools and communities better.
Engage their interests and get out of the way!
Small Group Leaders
Your biggest help in dealing with student stress and anxiety is our small group leaders. For example, we are entering our second school year of student ministry. We launched last year with one other adult leader me and. I heavily focused on recruiting and training other adult leaders. We now have 8 amazing SGL’s for 20ish students. And as we continue to reach a very unchurched area we are ready for spiritual and physical growth.
What does this have to do with teens’ stress and anxiety? Everything!
When they need an adult that’s not mom or dad they’ll have someone. When they fail a test or not make the team they’ll have someone to call. When there’s a fight at home they’ll have a port in the storm.
As a parent and family pastor I’m thankful for 2nd Shift’s SGL’s and the time they pour into my daughter and the other teens. Because we (parents) need a larger circle of adults to pour into our kids. My daughter stopped hearing me (she still does…just not like when she was little) a long time ago. But her SGL Nicole? Oh her words are taken to heart. Her words give pause and cause conversations and questions and answers. Nicole helps drive my daughter to God’s word.
Give your students the opportunity to be loved on and guided by these amazing adults. Their whole role is to help you win as parents and give your kids an authentic faith; one that will help them deal with stress and carry them through life’s toughest battles.
Stress and anxiety isn’t going away. Fortunately, there are things that we can do to help our kids cope and move forward together. The more they see that Jesus does make a difference in our everyday lives the more they will continue to trust him and by extension you.