Parents don’t have to look far to see that their children are impacted by both academic and social pressures. By some indications, teens now report even more stress than adults. As curricula become more rigorous and testing more high-stakes, the pressure to succeed academically weighs heavily on students at increasingly younger ages. Meanwhile, students are navigating the stress of making and keeping friendships, social media, bullying, and lockdown drills. All of this is overlaid by an ever-growing array of extracurricular activities and commitments. How can parents help children and teens manage this stress? Through tuning into core personal values, fostering problem-solving approaches, and highlighting proper self-care, parents can help children manage their stress.
Mindfulness. Mindfulness can be thought of as a state of intentional attention to the present. Often, children concern themselves with the “what if” and worry about the future. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve perspective taking and emotional control among other benefits for children. There are a variety of mindfulness practices which can be used with children. One of the simplest ways to begin practicing mindfulness is to observe one’s breathing. There are a number of apps such as Simple Habit, Headspace, and Calm that provide short meditation exercises. For those that prefer to be active, yoga and meditative walking are both effective mindfulness practices. Yoga apps such as Daily Yoga, Kids Fitness, or 5 Minute Yoga are helpful. Whether you are still or moving, the key to mindfulness is to deliberately bring awareness to the present and focus on your mind and body.
Problem Solving. A fundamental developmental task for individuals is learning how to solve problems. Learning to solve one’s own problems results in lower stress, in part through the development of self-efficacy, or the feeling of competence when one is able to manage situations on their own. Parents have an important role to play in scaffolding children through the problem-solving process, while avoiding the urge to jump in and simply solve the problem for your child. Rather than giving the solution, it is more effective to help coach your child through the stages of identifying the problem, generating a number of creative solutions, evaluating the pros and cons of each, selecting one to try, and then checking in to see how well it worked.
Turning Down the Volume on Social Media. In today’s society, a critical way for children and adolescents to remain connected to their friends is through social media. While it is a significant part of modern teen culture, all the messaging, posting, and perusing through friend’s Snaps and Instagrams can become socially and emotionally overwhelming. Sometimes your child may be concerned about not being in the loop or experience a fear of missing out (FOMO) when they are not connected to social media. It is helpful to model and teach your child that friendships and social opportunities remain even when they miss the occasional post or outing with friends. In addition, creating opportunities for your child to tune out from their social media and enjoy their family time or other pleasurable activities helps to balance the intense need to be connected online.
Engaging in Pleasurable Activities. A common source of stress is the hectic nature of our lives. Between school, homework, and extra-curricular activities, many children have far less free time for play and relaxation than previous generations. Encourage your child to prioritize the extra-curricular activities that are most important to them and seek to arrange schedules in a way that allow for down time during their week to enjoy simple but pleasurable activities like walks, listening to music, indoor and outdoor play, or a relaxing bubble bath.
Prioritize Family Time. Taking time to connect with family members helps reduce stress and strengthens the relationship that children rely on most to help manage their stress. As a family, set aside time each day (e.g., family dinner) or each week (e.g., Sunday afternoon outings or Tuesday evening game night) to disconnect from electronics, chores, and that nagging “to do” list, to just enjoy being with family. A family walk, bike ride, swim, or dance party can serve this role while simultaneously providing physical activity for both children and parents, creating a win-win opportunity.
Eating. Most people now understand the importance of good eating habits for physical health, but did you know that both eating the right foods helps children perform better academically and is beneficial to mental health and stress reduction? Encourage children to eat a variety of healthful foods, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Make cooking and eating meals together an enjoyable part of your family routine by listening to music, telling jokes, or listening to an interesting podcast together. Family meals offer an opportunity to connect and talk about your child’s daily life.
Sleeping. Similarly, sufficient sleep is critical for children’s well-being overall and stress in particular. The recommended amount of sleep each day for children varies by age, but can be substantially more than adults need. Grade schoolers, for instance, need a minimum of 9 hours of sleep per night. To encourage healthy sleep, begin by working backwards from your child’s waking time to establish a bedtime that allows for enough sleep, then build up a bedtime routine that helps calm children before they settle in for the night.
Exercise. The connection between physical exercise and stress reduction is becoming widely known. This relationship is thought to be related to physical changes that happen in the body when individuals exercise. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 60 minutes (not necessarily consecutive) of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day for children 6 years old and over. For children, particularly younger children, their natural affinity for active play serves many functions for them, including stress reduction. Encourage your child to use their bodies to run, jump, climb and explore as much as possible. Older children and adolescents often slow down because of increases in their workload. Encourage them to find what they enjoy, be it organized sports, dance, yoga class, swim lessons, martial arts, bike riding or taking a hike. Like eating and sleeping, building an enjoyable routine around physical activity helps it become a habit that is easier to maintain.
Author: Eve Loren Goldstein, Psy.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Learning Disabilities Specialist who has devoted more than 20 years to the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents. Dr. Goldstein is the founder and director of Westchester Child Therapy in Scarsdale, NY and Calabasas Child and Adolescent Psychology in Calabasas, CA. Within the scope of her practice, she conducts comprehensive neuropsychological assessments, utilizes evidence-based interventions to support children and their families with social and emotional issues that interfere with their everyday life, and provides executive functioning and study skills training for academic success.
Eighth Grade is one of those years we never forget. It’s a year that adolescents try to navigate from childhood to young adults. I remember myself in eighth grade, as an awkward teenager who felt my own reality was all that mattered. As I was maturing into a young woman, I experienced all the changes that emotionally and physically happen during this time of life.
Eighth Grade is a movie playing in select theaters about a young teenager, Kayla, who is finishing up eighth grade and preparing for high school. The movie does a good job of demonstrating how teenagers this age relate to each other and may experience feelings of being left out and/or not being part of the “cool” crowd. It also shows examples of young teens who are afraid of being excluded, made fun of or bullied, so they remain silent because they are too afraid to speak up.
The movie does a good job of making the viewer understand the feeling of wanting to belong and to find that one person who really understands you. Many adolescents crave having a best friend who they can tell everything to and be “real” with. This is something that many adults have experienced at some point in their lives – and a feeling that many teens can relate to now. Eighth Grade provides a clear sense of what it’s like to feel isolated and alone with your own thoughts, and touches on several of the other issues that come with being a teenager.
During the movie, Kayla makes various YouTube videos as she tries to discover her personality identity and how she can fit in. As teens watch this movie, they may empathize with Kayla as she experiences the emotional twists and turns that are common for thirteen and fourteen year-olds. Parents who watch the movie may relate to the uncomfortable silences and lulls in conversations that may occur as they try to connect with their child.
Who should see this movie?
This is a great movie for many families to see. It’s a powerful movie to watch as a family and can help start important discussions on the growing pains that are experienced during middle school.
Is this appropriate for all ages?
Eighth Grade is appropriate for any child that is old enough to understand the growing pains and challenges of being a young teenager.
Young children who are not yet teenagers may not understand or relate to the trials and tribulations of being in the eighth grade. The movie is not graphic in nature but may not be relatable to younger children who have not yet reached this time in their lives.
Why Should People See This Movie?
Middle school is a hard time to be a teenager. The movie is very relatable for many thirteen-year-olds who may struggle with their own values and personal identity. There is deep validation for the high and lows of adolescence that can be found in watching this movie.
Teens who watch this movie may feel a little less lost and lonely; relieved that they are not the only ones who feel the way that they do. The movie can provide a sense of hope to getting through this difficult time in a teenager’s life.
As a bullying expert and therapist, I truly appreciate movies, such as Eighth Grade, that demonstrate the issues and feelings of being a teenager. It is a movie that leaves you in a place of reflection and contemplation. It’s a movie that reveals bits of reality.
About the Author:
Danielle Matthew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who treats bully victims and their families and educates schools, medical professionals and the community about the bullying epidemic. With over 20 years of experience, Danielle authored Amazon Parenting Best-Seller, The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying, and is the Director of The Empowerment Space Bullying Therapy Program in Los Angeles. Featured in Huffington Post and TODAY.com, Danielle has appeared on Fox, ABC and CBS Morning Shows and Mom Talk Radio.
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