Stress. Drama. Fatigue. Hours of homework. Work. Practice. Rehearsal. College applications… Being a teenager is hard work.
I have listened to young women share the common struggle to balance increased responsibility and expectations for high performance.
Many teen girls are adept at bearing the stress of adolescence with a smile. Some may be thriving on the paper—enjoying their social lives and excelling as students, athletes, employees, and volunteers.
Adults can assume that teens have the energy and youth necessary to tackle the challenges before them. We are continually amazed by the resilience and capabilities of teens. Why do young people—the “selfie obsessed generation”—need self-care?
The stressors of adolescence are no secret. Academic and extracurricular responsibilities gradually increase throughout middle school and high school, while changes in the body bring unchartered physical and emotional experiences to navigate.
The brain is still developing. Social connections shift unpredictably.
Girls, in particular, experience mounting pressure to meet culturally desirable standards of beauty and worth. They are introduced to societal pressures specific to women: “Do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you sweat” (Brene Brown).
Stress and the Self
In the high school hustle, thriving in one’s personal life, effectively managing stress, and learning about the self can be overlooked.
In deciphering messages from parents, teachers, peers, leaders, and society about who they should be and what they need to accomplish, teen girls’ identities, needs, wants, joys, and strengths can be neglected.
“model and introduce teens to a preventative approach to health and wellness…”
Many young women are taught the way of the world without learning the way of self-care. Adolescence is often viewed as preparation for adulthood; while we orient teens to various areas of adult life, coping with stress and healthy attention to the self are not often explored in practical depth.
Teens need tools beyond assignment planners to pursue balance and wellness.
It is the volatility and struggle of adolescence that ushers in the growth needed to cross the threshold into adulthood, but this developmental stress also puts teens at risk for anxiety, depression, and compromised physical health. Girls often turn stress on the self, through disordered eating and self-harm.
How teens react and respond to stressors can lead to suffering or growth during this period. Self-care can serve as a buffer against burnout and other physically-averse effects while cultivating self-awareness and joy.
Self-care is an invitation to discover worth in aspects of the self and others unrelated to performance and physical appearance. It’s a kind, unselfish attention to the self beyond the selfie.
Getting-Started with Self-Care
Self-care is the act of taking the time to attend to things in life that promote physical, cognitive and emotional wellness. It’s about intentionally replenishing our energy and preventing a crash and burn.
The first question I ask a teen in mapping out a self-care plan is, “Who and what creates energy and joy in your life, on good and bad days?”
Their answers could be related to friends, music, hobbies, exercise, games, cooking healthy meals or creative activities. Other areas to consider in pursuing self-care are favorite places and spaces, and boundaries.
Since adolescence is a time when teens are testing out and discovering who they are and what they like, self-care creates space for this exploration outside of areas typically associated with performance such as the classroom or athletic field.
With awareness of self-care across the lifespan on the rise, some teens are beginning to learn more about it through social media platforms. There are limitless forms self-care can take, unique to each individual. Teens are probably already doing self-care activities without knowing it, such as going for a drive after a hard conversation.
“Self-care is the act of taking the time to attend to things in life that promote physical, cognitive, and emotional wellness.”
Teens seeking to develop a self-care practice can start with the questions: “Who and what creates energy and joy in my life?” Think through the answer to this question in the areas of creativity, physical activity, rest, interests, hobbies, and relaxation. Write down a list of a variety of choices to have on hand when needed.
Although some things you write down may be related to your extracurricular activities, identify some activities that you can participate in for pure enjoyment, without performance goals.
Another piece of developing a self-care practice is to look at your schedule and activities to identify barriers to self-care as well as activities that typically use up a lot of your energy. Plan a morning of self-care after a day-long travel soccer tournament.
If it seems that you do not have time for self-care, try small, quick practices you can do such as taking a five-minute break from homework to give your full attention to listen to your favorite song or take a walk around the block.
Technology can also be a barrier to taking time for rest. Part of your self-care routine could involve turning off your phone for a certain amount of time each week and disconnecting from the constant social drama.
If you are not a teen but have a teenage daughter or regularly interact with teen girls, examine your own approach to managing stress and taking care of self. What will teens learn from you?
Incorporate self-care into conversations, conveying its importance as a preventative measure. Rather than letting teens discover self-care on their own, we can model and introduce them to a preventative approach to health and wellness before adolescent stress peaks.