Navigating the turbulent teen years can feel like riding a rollercoaster blindfolded – you never know what steep drop or sharp turn is coming next.
Stress, anxiety, and swinging emotions often feel inescapable. But arming teens with healthy coping strategies can help them stay grounded when life feels out of control.
Sources of Stress
Adolescence is a time of many positive changes, but these changes can also be major sources of stress for young people. They include
- Academic pressure
- Physical maturation
- Hormonal changes
- Brain structure reorganization1
- Peer pressure
- Romantic relationships
- Gaining independence from parents
- College applications
- Financial pressure
- Uncertainty about the future
- Emerging adult responsibilities
Without positive coping strategies, these challenges and stresses could elevate to maladaptive behavior, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and mental health issues.
What Are Teen Coping Skills
Teen coping skills are techniques or strategies that can help teenagers deal with stress, negative thoughts, and difficult situations in life in a healthy way. These skills can help us maintain our mental and emotional health during tough times.2
Types of Coping Skills
Researchers group coping skills into different types to study their effectiveness. These types include
- problem-focused versus emotion-focused3
- approach versus avoidance4
- productive versus non-productive5
- adaptive versus maladaptive coping methods6
However, research doesn’t always agree on which type is best. This could be because these groups are broad and can sometimes overlap.
Healthy Coping Skills For Teens
Regardless of categorization, here is a list of coping skills studies have found helpful in dealing with teen stress.
Solve the Problem
Problem-solving skill is a problem-focused coping strategy in which individuals take deliberate steps to alter stressful situations.
This proactive approach encourages individuals to face challenges head-on and find constructive solutions to overcome them. Instead of avoiding problems, it helps you approach them and is considered an adaptive coping mechanism7.
For example, if a teenager feels anxious about an upcoming exam, they can create a study plan and reorganize their schedule to ensure they have ample time to prepare. By doing so, they actively address the root cause and work towards a positive outcome to alleviate feelings of anxiety and foster self-efficacy.
Time management is among the best coping skills for teens. In the long term, problem-solving is also one of the most effective ways to enhance resilience leading to lifelong health.
Ask for Help
Seeking assistance from others is another problem-focused strategy that encourages individuals to confront challenges rather than evade them. It is associated with fewer mental health problems in teenagers8.
By reaching out to friends or family members for support, a teenager can gain new perspectives, insights, and potential solutions to tackle the issue at hand.
Empower your teen to speak up and get help when they face a challenge that seems insurmountable. Communicate openly and create a supportive environment so they know asking for help does not imply weakness. Instead, it promotes courage and self-awareness.
However, parents who use harsh punishment to punish their teens for making mistakes are unlikely to have their teens ask them for guidance when they face challenges. Harsh punishment is also associated with increased odds of developing a mental disorder or other mental illness9. This is another good reason why punishment doesn’t work to discipline.
Seek Emotional Support
Seeking social support is an emotion-focused coping.
Some studies have found that a support network of friends, family, and teachers is superior to other forms of support in reducing depressive symptoms in teenagers. But in other studies, no such relationships were found.
The discrepancies could be due to the response of their support-seeking.
When the individuals providing support overreact to a situation or minimize the issue, teenagers may perceive this as unsupportive and feel discouraged from seeking help in the future.
Overreaction often comes from parents, while minimization or invalidation usually comes from peers.
Teenagers seeking emotional support should look for help that matches their needs. They are more likely to feel helped when someone is willing to listen, shows empathy in a positive way, and does not trivialize their situation10.
Reappraisal is reevaluating a stressful situation by considering alternative perspectives or interpretations that are less distressing.
As an emotion-focused coping strategy, reappraisal actively addresses the issue in an approaching way rather than avoiding it.
By shifting one’s mindset, reframing the situation, and using positive affirmations, teenagers can alter their negative self-talk and emotional response.
This coping mechanism promotes psychological flexibility and overall emotional health, helping teens become more resilient11.
Also See: Positive Self-Talk
While avoidance behavior is generally not considered adaptive coping, there are circumstances in which temporary distractions are positive coping skills for handling stress.
Distraction, when used appropriately, can provide a mental break and a chance for the teenager to recharge, regroup, and refocus their thoughts and emotions.
This approach can be particularly useful when dealing with overwhelming stress or when the situation is beyond the teenager’s control.
Engaging in healthy distractions, such as physical activity, hobbies, spending time in nature, or socializing with friends, can help alleviate stress and anxiety in the short term. They can also help teens with depression symptoms12.
However, it is important to balance using distraction as a temporary coping mechanism and addressing the underlying issue directly. Overreliance on distraction can lead to avoidance and may hinder the development of more effective coping skills.
Good mental health care is a strong protective factors against stress.13 Here are some everyday life practices teens can use to strengthen their mental and physical health.
- deep breathing exercises
- relaxation exercises such as progressive muscle relaxation techniques
- getting enough sleep
- listening to music
- playing on a musical instrument
- physical exercises
Unhealthy Coping Skills
Parents can encourage their children to avoid poor coping skills while developing new skills.
Here are some unhealthy coping mechanisms teens should not rely on14,15.
- Wishful thinking
- Drug use
- Alcoholic abuse
Drinking behavior and the use of substances are hazardous and can contribute to suicidal thoughts and attempts.
Also See: Red Flags In Teenage Behavior
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- 2.Folkman S, Moskowitz JT. Coping: Pitfalls and Promise. Annu Rev Psychol. Published online February 1, 2004:745-774. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.141456
- 3.Völlink T, Bolman CAW, Eppingbroek A, Dehue F. Emotion-Focused Coping Worsens Depressive Feelings and Health Complaints in Cyberbullied Children. Journal of Criminology. Published online June 20, 2013:1-10. doi:10.1155/2013/416976
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- 10.Camara M, Bacigalupe G, Padilla P. The role of social support in adolescents: are youhelping meorstressing me out? International Journal of Adolescence and Youth. Published online March 27, 2014:123-136. doi:10.1080/02673843.2013.875480
- 11.Andreotti C, Thigpen JE, Dunn MJ, et al. Cognitive reappraisal and secondary control coping: associations with working memory, positive and negative affect, and symptoms of anxiety/depression. Anxiety, Stress & Coping. Published online January 2013:20-35. doi:10.1080/10615806.2011.631526
- 12.Freedenberg VA, Hinds PS, Friedmann E. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Group Support Decrease Stress in Adolescents with Cardiac Diagnoses: A Randomized Two-Group Study. Pediatr Cardiol. Published online July 12, 2017:1415-1425. doi:10.1007/s00246-017-1679-5
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- 14.Garnefski N, Kraaij V. Bully victimization and emotional problems in adolescents: Moderation by specific cognitive coping strategies? Journal of Adolescence. Published online August 25, 2014:1153-1160. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2014.07.005
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