- Sources of stress
- What are coping skills
- Healthy coping skills for teens
- Unhealthy coping skills
Depression is strongly associated with teen suicide, with suicide being the second leading cause of death for adolescents ages 10-14 in the United States1.
Teens experiencing depression are 12 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who are not2.
In 2019, findings from the nationally representative Youth Risk Behavioral Survey indicated almost 19% of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide, and 11% actually attempted it.
Additionally, many mental health issues diagnosed in adulthood originate in adolescence. Around half of all lifetime mental disorders begin by age 143.
These alarming statistics highlight the importance of addressing mental health concerns during adolescence.
Effective coping skills are one of the protective factors against mental health conditions, as they provide individuals with the tools to manage their emotions, behaviors, and thoughts in response to stress, adversity, or difficult situations4.
Cultivating helpful coping skills in adolescents plays a crucial role in fostering the resilience they need for navigating the challenges of their future lives.
Sources of Stress
Adolescence is a time of change. These changes are major sources of stress for teenagers.
- Academic pressure
- Gaining independence from parents
- Physical maturation
- Hormonal changes
- Immature brain
- Peer relationships and pressure
- Relationship with parents
- Applying to college
- Financial pressure
- Romantic relationships
- Uncertainty about the future
- Merging adult responsibilities
These changes and stressful events may elevate to maladaptive behavior and mental health crises.
Relationship stress among teenage girls is higher than among teenage boys. Teenage girls are twice as likely to experience a depressive episode as their male counterparts. One hypothesis suggests that girls react more negatively to similar levels of distress than boys5.
What Are Coping Skills
Coping skills are the strategies used to manage or adapt one’s emotions, behaviors, and thoughts in stressful situations to avoid psychological harm. They allow individuals to manage the internal and external demands of adversity6.
Types of Coping Skills
In studying the impact of diverse coping skills, researchers have analyzed the distinctions among various classifications of coping strategies.
These classifications include problem-focused versus emotion-focused7, approach versus avoidance8, productive versus non-productive9, and adaptive versus maladaptive coping methods10.
Because these categories are broad and sometimes overlap, many studies show inconsistent results.
Healthy Coping Skills For Teens
Regardless of terminology, here are some healthy coping strategies that most studies have found useful in dealing with adolescent stress. Teenagers should, however, be aware that some of them have special nuances.
Solve the Problem
Problem-solving skill is a type of problem-focused coping strategy in which individuals take deliberate steps to alter the situations that cause stress.
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 mechanism11.
For example, if a teenager feels anxious about an upcoming exam, they can devise 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, which can alleviate anxiety and fosters a sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy.
In the long run, developing problem-solving as a positive coping skill can enhance resilience and adaptability, leading to lifelong health.
Seeking assistance from others is another problem-focused strategy that encourages individuals to confront challenges rather than evade them. It is associated with a lower risk of mental illnesses in teenagers12.
By reaching out to friends, family, or colleagues for support, guidance, or collaboration, a teenager can gain new perspectives, insights, and potential solutions to tackle the issue at hand.
Empower your teen to speak up and seek help when they face a challenge that seems insurmountable despite their best efforts. Communicate openly and create a supportive environment so they know asking for help does not imply weakness but 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 difficult problems in the future. In addition, harsh punishment is also associated with increased odds of mental disorders and other mental illnesses13.
Seeking Emotional Support
Seeking social support can be viewed as an emotion-focused coping. It is also a functional form of coping strategy.
Some studies found that emotional support from family, teachers, and friends was superior to other forms of support in reducing depressive symptoms in teenagers.
But in other studies, no such relationships were found.
Research suggests that 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 response 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, and does not trivialize their situation14.
Reappraising 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 at hand (approaching) rather than avoiding it.
By shifting one’s mindset and reframing the situation, teenagers can alter their negative self-talk and emotional responses.
This coping mechanism promotes psychological flexibility and overall emotional health, helping teens be more resilient15.
Also See: Positive Self-Talk
While avoidance behavior is generally not considered adaptive coping, there are circumstances in which temporary distractions are positive strategies 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 activities, hobbies, spending time in nature, or socializing with friends, can help alleviate stress and anxiety in the short term. These activities can also help teens with depression symptoms16.
However, it is important to strike a balance between 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 adaptive problem-solving skills.
Also See: Red Flags In Teenage Behavior
Unhealthy Coping Skills
Parents can encourage their children to avoid poor coping skills in addition to helping them develop effective coping strategies.
Here are some unhealthy coping skills teens should not rely on17,18.
- Wishful thinking
- Substance use
- Alcoholic abuse
Drinking behavior and the use of substances are especially dangerous and can contribute to suicidal ideation and attempts.
- 1.. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Published 2022. www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars
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