Q: Write a magazine article in which you give advice to adults on how to help teenagers cope with the “storm and stress” of adolescence.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and sorry I could not travel both”. I believe life is all about the choices we make. Today I will be writing about how parents can help and make a difference in the choices we make.

Take a walk with me down memory lane and think about twelve years old you on your first day of secondary school. The majority of us were shy and terrified. Nothing has changed since then, human behaviour does not change. We feel the same emotions that our ancestors felt. Making new friends can be difficult and it will be a struggle that your teenager will have to face at some point. Asking a nervous preteen to be a social butterfly, outgoing and talkative on their first day of school should be a crime. It is a scary thought for a twelve-year-old to have enough confidence to strike up conversations. Most of us were worried about what others thought and might think. Margarita Tartakovsky M.S shares some great tips on her blog “psych central” to overcome anxiety. When your child feels anxious, they might get carried away by a slew of ‘what if’s’. A vital instruction and the first piece of advice she gives is to take deep breaths. Encourage your teenager before walking in on her first day to take plenty of deep breaths. This activates the body’s relaxation response. Marla W. Deibler, a clinical psychologist says that it “helps [the body] go from fight or flight to relaxed response”.The second tip she provides is to “question your thoughts”. When we feel anxious the brain starts creating outlandish ideas, many of these are highly unrealistic. Parents could suggest to their teenagers to analyse their thoughts. This can be done by asking questions such as, “Is this worry realistic ?”, “Is this really likely to happen ?” and “Could I handle that ?”. Another useful tip Tartakovsky gives is to use a calming visualisation. She suggests practising meditation regularly. Finally last but not least she recommends using positive self-talk. We teenagers might think this is embarrassing and might be resistant but anxiety produces negative chatter. Positive affirmations and coping statements can reduce the level of anxiety.      Research carried out by Laya Healthcare show 80% of adults have been affected by anxiety. 11% admit that anxiety affects their everyday struggles. Teenagers would benefit greatly by using the advice mentioned. They will learn to deal with anxiety and to not let it affect their daily lives. One thing that your child may not be ready to hear is that he or she will lose some friends along the way. Having gone through this myself I can testify that this is a heartbreaking time. I believe that it might soften the blow if parents are involved and aware of what is going in our lives. I know that we may not always listen but the wisdom and advice you share with us will not fall upon deaf ears.

Social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat is the new Myspace of this generation. There are many positives to the evolution of the digital world such as an abundance of knowledge and information now available to us at the touch of our fingertips. But I want to shed light on some of the harsh realities we are facing today. Unfortunately, “ privacy is dead and social media holds the smoking gun”. This is a statement made by Pete Cashmore, the CEO of Mashable, a digital website and entertainment company. Us teenagers share everything online and whole lives revolve around the number of likes we get on our photos and the number of followers we have.It pains me to say that we seek validation from our peers and sometimes we can have two different sides to us. The more reserved and shy person we can be when we are talking in real life and then the opinionated and bold persona we can also be behind the screen. “Social a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage”. According to the Pew survey conducted in 2014, 94% of teens use social media on a daily basis. WVEA Help centre reported that teenagers spend an astounding nine hours a day in front of screens. We spend more hours on our phones than we do sleeping. I know this may sound absurd and it may be difficult to comprehend. The internet is an addiction. We may be addicted to phones and be totally unaware. Here are some signs that we may be addicted to our phones. One, we suffer from withdrawal when our phone or the network is not working. We may be angry, depressed or even anxious. Two, We may experience digital eye strain pain from looking at the screen for more than a couple of hours. Three, We may have constant blurred vision, itching eyes and headaches. Four, Some of us may experience fatigue or may have a sleeping disorder. Five, We lose track of time when we are using our phones. 

I urge you, parents, to help make a change. Fortunately, there are ways to help break phone addiction, parents can implement them or advise their teenagers to consider them. The first way to break phone addiction is to set time limits. Spending less time on your phone is the best way to fight it. You can set time limits for your teenager or download apps such as Spyzie. This might be a better and more efficient way as it automatically locks the phone when the time limit has been exceeded. Spyzie also offers a range of features. It keeps track on social media activity, analyses call logs and even monitors texts. Another way of helping your son or daughter reduce the amount of time spent on their phones is by preventing them from bringing their phone into bed with them. This allows your teenager to sleep better at night. It takes away the temptation of wanting to check notification during the late hours of the night. Teenagers might find it beneficial to use the aeroplane mode feature on their phone. This prevents the reception of messages and connects to wifi or Bluetooth. This gives us little reason to spend time on our phones and it is an excellent way to fight phone addiction.

I believe part of growing up is evolving into a better person. Sometimes we lose interest in the hobbies we use to enjoy. Majority of us become less interested in taking part in extracurricular activities that may require more than the bare minimum. This is something I experienced myself when I started secondary school. Between the long days at school and the homework and studying at home, I found it hard to include sport as well. Surveys carried out by CBS News show nine out of ten teens do not get enough exercise. I believe encouraging and motivating us to exercise just thirty minutes a day can beneficial to both the mind and body. Exercise reduces the odds of developing heart disease and stroke. According to the study researched at the University of British Columbia, regular aerobic exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus, which is the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Physical activity also indirectly helps improve mood, sleep and it reduces stress and anxiety. Parents can encourage us to join clubs, a gym, dance class or even something simple as walking. There are so many facilities available nowadays. I know that in my town, Tralee, there are endless possibilities and options such as Zumba classes, the tennis club, kickboxing and multiple football clubs. With a little push and encouragement, parents can help make a change in the long run.

One of the hardest challenges to cope with as a teenager is the pressure and stress of exams. Every teenager has various ways of dealing with the pressure and some can manage stress better than others. Sometimes no matter how much we have studied, stayed up late, completed practice questions or even listened in class, exam time can be a nerve-racking experience. Some ways that can help teens cope with stress are: talking to people during exam time. This is better than having to go through this stressful time alone. It is important to remind us to take lots of breaks. Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed by the load of work and forget to take breaks. Parents can help by advising us to take care of ourselves. Getting enough sleep, eating right and drinking lots of water is essential especially when your teenager is stressed.  What I have learned is nothing worth having comes easy. All of us go through the emotions of tests and I am certain that this is not a feeling foreign to parents. I am afraid to say despite parents’ efforts to comfort us we might have to learn for ourselves. However, something parents can do to alleviate the tension is hot chocolate and a warm fire on a cold winter evening. The sweet creamy taste of hot chocolate will be a treat after the long day and we will love for it. Before the exam parents can help their teenagers devise a set of realistic goals, remind us to go into the exam with a positive mindset and set a bedtime to prevent us from staying up too late. At the end of the day, as William Jones said,” the greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose thought over another”.

A miserable feeling that I hate to perceive is feeling alone. Kovie Biakolo author of the Thought Catalog describes loneliness truthfully, “It’s like being in a place with a thousand people but feeling invisible to every one of them”. There is something that hurts, even more, the feeling of being invisible to our own parents. We understand that parents are busy with their job at work and tired from their duties at home. We understand that parents are doing their best to provide for us but sometimes this inkling of loneliness niggles away at us. According to the research carried out by BBC, 10% of people aged 16-24 are either always or often lonely. This was the highest proportion of any age group. I know teenagers are not great at communication when it comes to our feelings but I believe parents can avert this situation by asking us about or day, being involved in our lives. This may involve occasionally having to listen to our rants but I can guarantee that it will be worth it. However, there are others to deal with loneliness. One way of overcoming this feeling is by getting busy. Us teenagers often need a little push and encouragement. If we are bored with nothing to do in our free time then encourage us to volunteer at organisations we care about. There might be many in the local area such as Jigsaw, Pieta house and Saint Vincent De paul. Last year my friends and I managed to raise €350 for Jigsaw as part of our Anti-Bullying Campaign, the whole project was very rewarding and fun. We had to use our creativity to come up with new ideas of innovative ways of fundraising. Another way of reducing loneliness can be to boost self-confidence. Low self-esteem can often hold us back in social situations. According to, over 70% of girls aged fifteen to seventeen avoid daily activities such as attending school when they feel they look bad. This is a staggering amount of girls who have low self-esteem. Our self-esteem can be boosted by killing negative thoughts and thinking positive. As the famous American poet, E.E cummings said:” Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit”. Exploring Interests and new hobbies is another way to fight loneliness. Suggesting to your teenagers to try something new or to learn a new skill might help combat feeling alone. Learning to enjoy one’s own company can help with loneliness. Spending time alone to reflect can be liberating. Robert Tew once said,” Sometimes you need to take a break from everyone and spend time alone to experience, appreciate and love yourself”.

 “What do you want to do after school ?”This is the most frequently asked question I have faced. There are endless possibilities and generous choices and yet I cannot seem to decide. Having to choose a career best suited to our personalities and interests is tough but not knowing who we are or want we want to make it tougher. No one can predict the future and one of our biggest fear is the unknown. A recent study according to the Irish Independent said that there has been a decrease in the number of college places available due to lack of jobs for students who leave school. This has led to extra competition for places as a result of applicants not getting their first choice. This creates a knock-on effect and puts leaving cert students under high pressure. All of these reasons make us worry about the future. However, John A. Shedd’s motto motivates us to take risks,” A ship in harbour is safe but that is not what ships are built for”. I believe that parents can help by sharing your experiences, passions and advice. This will hopefully supply us with enough courage and motivation to follow our own dreams. My biggest hope and challenge is to allow passion to become my purpose and hope that one day it will be my profession. There is inspiration all around us. In recent times, my nineteen-year-old brother has gone off to college. Watching him follow his passion and study maths at college despite having no idea about his plans for the future ignites a spark of determination in me for when the time comes I will hopefully have enough courage to do the same. There is an abundance of inspiration and stories waiting to be told.

From the words of the American researcher Steve Maraboli,” What we instil in our children will be the foundation upon which they build their future”.  Parents have the ability to shape us and to help us build for the future. I hope that I have provided beneficial advice on how to help your teenagers at home.