Teenagers! What can we do about them? What comes to mind when you think of teenagers? As adults, some of us are sometimes quick to jump to the conclusion that teenagers are always moody, lazy, think they know it all, and so on. Granted that in some cases, this can be true from time to time, but have we as adults ever paused to understand the emotional pressures (stress) that teenagers go through daily?
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A teenager’s brain
A child’s brain develops quickly between the ages of 3-5, but the most dramatic and intense growth spurt of the brain occurs typically between the ages of 12-19 (known as adolescence). All of this change that is going on in a teen’s brain causes them to wonder how they can deal with themselves while dealing with external factors they encounter.
As adults looking in from the outside, if we don’t fully understand or grasp the changes that a teenager’s brain goes through – we will view teens as irrational, impulsive, moody. Studies have shown that teenagers differ from adults in how they behave, make decisions, and problem solve. This is because a teenager’s brain is not fully developed. A teen’s brain reaches its biggest size in adolescence BUT doesn’t fully grow and mature until 25. To learn more about teenage brain development, click here.
When adults think back to their teenage years, some saw it filled with happiness, forgetting quickly that being a child (even at the tender age of 5) and going through adolescence can be very stressful. I grew up in three different countries before moving to America. In school, I was called the ‘PK’ (pastor’s kid), and the stress that came from that became emotionally draining from time to time. I was expected to act a certain, dress a certain, and be this perfect being, all while trying to figure out what changes my body and mind were going through at that time.
It is not easy being a teenager because of the developmental changes (physical, cognitive, and social) they are going through from childhood toward adulthood. They are changing emotionally and physically, plus there is external stress, and they are trying to balance it all. These transitions trigger a tremendous change in teenagers that is usually overwhelming for them.
For the most part, adolescence has always been an awkward challenging stage where teens struggle to find their identity, seek autonomy, and learn about intimacy and sexuality in relationships. Their minds are also going through a ton of emotions that they are trying to regulate while trying to balance their physical, cognitive, and emotional developmental changes at the same time. This is why teens often come off as moody and very dramatic.
These things create a level of emotional stress, but they are not new areas of teenage development. What is new is “the environment that we live in, and it is this fast-paced, perpetually plugged-in society that sets the tone for the messages and expectations that teens receive every day.”
Today, I have 3 amazing teens to talk about the emotional pressures they experience as teenagers. Here are their stories:
Alexandria K. (age 16) – “In 2018, my parents separated, and that took a toll on my life in and out of school. At times I felt like they didn’t care about my mental state. I felt alone, kind of like I was drowning, and nobody was there to help me, and it eventually affected me in school.
As a new kid to the district, I couldn’t be sad because people would call me weird, so I would hide all of my emotions with a smile, and the smile was believable. I tried to fit in as much as possible, but it’s honestly impossible to do so, I was always depressed, and I felt alone. I was trying to get straight A’s when my mind wasn’t in the space I needed it to be, and I eventually started to slack in school.
When I started to feel alone at home and at school, I would shut down. I started doing things I wasn’t supposed to do, and the people I would hang around didn’t bother to stop me; they actually influenced me. It’s not a great thing to say, but it’s apart of my journey. I treated the things I did as a coping mechanism; it was the only way I felt the stress, the loneliness, and the depression was lifted off my shoulders.
Eventually, I realized that what I was doing wasn’t the cure. I realized there isn’t a cure. You just have to live through it until it passes. Substances couldn’t save me. My so-called friends couldn’t save me. I’m still battling things as I’m maturing one step at a time. I’m learning more about myself, trying to heal from all my childhood wounds.”
Jaquan D.(age 16) – “I feel pressure from everybody like parents, friends, and loved ones. They expect me to do certain stuff at this age, and it sometimes feels like a job. Schoolwork is too much, and it makes me feel stress and the large amount of work that is given makes me feel overwhelmed, and I become unmotivated to do anything. When I’m with my friends, I can’t be a bum. I have to dress the part to not ‘get my ass cut’ – not be made fun of.
I also can’t be a ‘sherm’; I gotta be solid. I cannot present myself as a weak person. Having to be like this makes me feel paranoid but confident at the same time because I have to always be aware of my surroundings. It’s regular life to me. At times my friends would be, “Oh, you don’t smoke, why you don’t smoke,” and I say to them no. They act like I need to smoke to have fun.
With social media, it makes me feel like I have to get on my grind and be better than my friends or meet them on the same level. Seeing what they post inspires me but at the same time creates pressure because I feel like I have to have it all together now.”
Shanaqua D. (age 18) – “Personally speaking, social media can be very informative and help maintain relationships with friends near and far, but it can also lower your self-esteem. Every second I go on Instagram, I’ll see girls posting photos with their bodies looking perfect and their likes and comments over 3k. I’ll then start getting in my head thinking that my body isn’t good enough, wondering what I can do to get the same amount of likes as them so that I can be popular.
I’ve also had problems trying to fit in at school. Everyone is always looking at you. Every day I had to make sure my hair was well done, my skin wasn’t looking ‘ashy,’ and my shoes and bag were clean and some sort of name brand bag because if I didn’t meet those criteria, I wouldn’t belong. I didn’t want to show my phone at school because everyone would laugh and know that I am not fortunate enough. Even though that’s not the importance of going to school, and you shouldn’t care what people have to say about you, I still didn’t want to attend school every day and get picked on.
Don’t’ get me started on doing good and being perfect. All my life, I’ve wanted to make my family proud, and there were times when I stressed about whether or not I will pass an exam because I did not want to be a disappointment to my parents. Sometimes I wanted to do fun and risky stuff with my friends. I just had to stop myself because from the moment I slip, I’m disobedient, rebellious, and all other forms of names other than ‘good.’ You do so many things to be good and be perfect, and sometimes it’s still not enough.”
Alexandria, Jaquan, and Shanaqua, thank you so much for being brave enough to share your story with us! You all are not the only teens that go through this, and your story will help teens know that they are not alone and help parents/caregivers have an insight into some of the emotional pressures teens face.
Warning signs that the pressures are too much
The emotional pressures teenagers go through can significantly impact teenagers’ choices and how they cope. There may be an underlying problem as well that needs to be addressed. Look out for these signs that can indicate your teen is at their breaking point:
- Social withdrawal (if this is something they do not usually do)
- High levels of irritability and hostility
- Extreme and frequent mood changes
- Sudden change in behavior – eating or sleeping habit
- Frequent or long periods of sadness over everyday events that are disappointing
- Loss of interest in activities
- Confusion and loss of concentration
- Self-injury such as cutting
Tips to help teenagers manage
Here’s how you can support teenager as they face their emotional pressures
- Have open communication. Do not speak to them in codes. Be open and honest.
- Encourage positive behavior.
- Be empathic and always acknowledge their frustrations and how they feel.
- Promote structure and routine.
- Talk to them early on about developmental changes their body will be going through.
- Be patient and do not jump to conclusions. Give them a chance to voice/vent how they feel, then make decisions together.
- When disciplining, explain the reason for it before doing it. This is how they learn right from wrong, about morals and integrity.
- Be supportive, be loving, and allow space.
- Let them know that they are loved no matter what and that you are proud.
Wonderful post! I really enjoyed reading, gave me a lot of insight for when my children are older. Thanks for sharing!
Amanda thanks so much for your feedback and I am happy you enjoyed and found this post helpful!
I really enjoyed reading this post. Being a parent of a teenager made me more aware of how much peer pressure is out there. Teenagers have to show so much strength to stay on the right path. I am proud of the teens who shared their stories with you in this post.
Thank you Rebekah for bringing more awareness to the issues so many teenagers endure daily!
Thanks so much for your feedback! Peer pressure is so serious, especially in today’s generation. It’s scary! They have to do so much to fit in and trying to fit can sometimes lead them down the wrong path. Having a strong support system is so important during adolescence. I am so proud of all the teens that were comfortable and open enough with me to share their story. So proud of them!
Being a teenager overall is so difficult especially if you don’t have supportive parents.
Cata 💗 http://beautyofcafe205.blog/
Catarina thanks so much for your feedback! Having supportive parents is so crucial for teenagers during their adolescent years.
I’d imagine the only people talking in code would be the teens using their generations slag, rather than their parents, surely?
I certainly understand the need for parents to be available for their children both emotionally and psychologically, and not just physically. The racist abuse I endured throughout my childhood years destoryed me and my mum completely neglected my needs. I’m still dealing with the scars left by my childhood
Thanks so much for your feedback! In today’s generation, there are so many codes that teens use that I can hardly keep up. But sometimes parents are not truly open with their teenagers about things that they should be open about. For example, sex. My parents were never open with me about this. Up to this day they have never spoken to me about it, I learned about it in school. Can you imagine?!
It’s heartbreaking to know how cruel some people can be to others. They really don’t know the damage they can do to a person’s life, leaving them emotionally scarred well into adulthood. I am sorry you and your mom had to endure this. I hope you are both in somewhat of a better place now. You’re amazing and I always look forward to your comments. They really keep me on my toes :).
This is a wonderful post. I have some friends with teens and many of use the supports you mentioned. I have some other friends with teens who don’t. It’s obvious which teens feel more confident and comfortable as they are going through all the developmental changes. And sadly so many don’t get the support they need from home. As a teacher by day, I work with the younger ones, 4th grade, we talk a lot about perseverance, kindness, compassion, helping one another, being patient, especially in today’s precarious times. For the ones that are struggling in the future hopefully they have some good support people around them to help. It truly does take a village. Keep posting. Be well.💕
Thanks so much for your feedback! I agree with you! It is easy to pick up on whether a teen has a positive support system or not. it shows through their actions, body language, and communication. I have such a high level of respect for teachers because sometimes that is the only positive support system a child might have in their life!
Hi Rebekah. Great post. Well, my parents must have done a better job than it seemed at the time – because I don’t really recall having any issues in my teens! The only friction point I really recall is my Dad absolutely hating the fact that, depending on what went on the day/night before, I would happily sleep until midday 🙂
Richie, I always look forward to your comments! Most teenagers I know love to sleep in! Maybe it’s a brain development thing! Teengagers definitely need more sleep for brain development during those years, so that could be why! hehe.
I imagine that being a teenager today with social media being so readily accessible adds another layer of difficulty. I definitely had my issues as a teen growing up and at that time understanding teenagers brains was not really known so that would have helped. This was a great post — very informative!
Thanks so much for your feedback Molly! Today’s generation certainly is more difficult than it was years ago and even generations ago.
Great post! Being a teenager is so tough. They have so much going on, inside and out. I think as parents, we really need to be open and honest with them.
Thank you so much for sharing this!
Tiffany as always, thanks so much for the feedback! it’s truly difficult for teenagers, especially this generation. Open and honest communication is a necessity to help them through adolescense.
These tips will help. Teenagers today have a lot of problems that I didn’t have to deal with .
Agreed 100%! The generation today has so many external factors that weigh heavy on their development. Having a healthy support system to help them manage and navigate through those years is so essential!
There is so much about my teenage years that I cannot remember. I blocked many things out and didn’t realize it until family talks about those times and I ask,”Where the heck was I???” I was there, but perhaps with the situations that were occurring, I blocked them out. Bei g a teenager is hard and its own. I often worry about how I will deal with my son and issues that I’m sure will occur once he gets into his teen years. Great post!
Thanks so much for your feedback, Ms. Tee. Being a teenager is not easy at all! Somethings I don’t remember myself either and maybe that’s a good thing lol. I am sure you will be a wonderful and great support to your son when he starts adolescence.
Beautiful post. True. Adolescence is one of those really difficult times. I wish all teenagers get the right support system
Thanks so much for the feedback! Adolescence is really a crucial time and a healthy support system makes all the difference for teenagers.
Beautiful post! Being a teenager can be tough, but it can also be fun. Making that connection is very important, to reach out to a teen in need. I will definitely use your tips in the future.
Thanks so much for your feedback! I certainly agree with you that connecting with teenagers is so important because there is so much that is going on within them that they do not know how to process and navigate. But with support, they will be able to flourish.
Great post, this age is complicated
Thanks for sharing
Thanks So much for your feedback! Being a teenager is not easy at all, especially in today’s generation.
Being a teenager in these times is so difficult, I’m 19 and the pressure of doing extremely well by family members or just social media can be too much. I honestly think teenage years are the most difficult and confusing times in a person life. Really appreciated this post, Great job!
Anissa I am so humbled that this post was helpful for you. Teenage years are definitely the most challenging time, and unfortunately some adults are not able to understand that. It’s hard being a teenager when your body is changing rapidly and at the same time you are being hit with so many external stimuli. It’s extremely overwhelming. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Aw, such a wonderful post, Rebekah! My nieces and nephews are soon entering the teen stage so since I’m not a mom and haven’t gone through it, this is helpful for me to communicate and keep my positive relationships with them! Thank you for sharing x
Thanks so much for your feedback Lynn! A strong support system is the most important thing for teenagers as they go through adolescence.