The 5 best things parents can do to help their teen manage stress.

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As parents, life can be stressful, even overwhelming at times, and it’s easy to look back at our teen years with fondness and longing. But as with many of our long-lost memories, we often view them through rose-coloured glasses, forgetting the challenges that came with teen life. 

As a mum of teens myself, I get it. But when we take the time to come up for air and really look at our teens, the reality is, those teenage years aren’t all cupcakes and rainbows.

“Stress is a normal part of life and can even be beneficial in some situations,” says Senior Psychologist and Clinical Lead at ReachOut, Linda Williams.

“However, the teenage years are a time of transition, a lot of firsts in life and hormonal changes, all of which can be stressful and in some cases that stress can start to impact a teen’s wellbeing and mental health.”

In a digital world full of easily accessible information and social media, the waters are even murkier than they used to be. And the terrain, even trickier for parents. 

“At ReachOut, we hear from many parents and carers that it can be difficult to relate to the experiences of their teens,” says Williams.

"Social media is a good example of a massive shift from one generation to another. For many parents and carers, concepts such as navigating online friendships or trolling can feel really foreign."

What we can relate to though, are those core feelings such as feeling worried, sad or frustrated. Focusing on providing emotional support, rather than trying to fix the problem, is often the best approach. 


“As a parent or carer it’s fine not to have all the answers and to not know how to navigate a stressful situation for your teen,” Williams says. 

"For many parents and caregivers, it's all about seeking support, whether from someone you trust, a medical professional, or a support service such as ReachOut Parents, to learn more about the best way to support your teen.

“Self-care for parents and carers is also vital because you will be in a much better position to support your teen when your cup is full.”

Here are some key strategies to support your teen when they’re feeling stressed. 

Ongoing conversations 

Have ongoing conversations with your teen about what is happening in their lives, including about mental health. 

“Although these conversations can be tricky, having them regularly rather than a one off can help to make it easier when tough times do arise,” Williams says. 

Find ways to incorporate conversations into your daily lives. Teenagers aren't always big talkers naturally, and I know in my house, each one has their own distinct personality. For some it's like pulling teeth, for others, offer up the right topic, and you can't stop them. 

Sometimes it's like playing a casual game of 20 questions, asking how their day was as you make them afternoon tea, probing a little further without making it feel like an interrogation.  


Use their interests to get their attention. I'll often talk about mental health challenges faced by AFL players when talking to my sporty teens, or use song lyrics or other pop-culture references to spark conversation with the others. 

I also have a 'no topic is off limits' policy, as long as everyone remains respectful, to ensure the kids know they can't talk to me about literally anything. 

Encourage self-care

Schedule in time for self-care activities as a family. Finding activities everyone enjoys can sometimes be tricky, but if you find something that works, stick to it. 

We have a huge blended family of seven, with children of multiple ages, so where we used to do board games and movie nights, we've had to mix things up a bit to account for a range of different interests, now the kids are older. 

Exercise is a great option, it’s accessible to a range of ages and abilities. Bike rides and walks are some great ideas to get started.  

“These activities are low cost or even free, and they encourage you to focus on your breath and often get you out into nature," Williams says. 

Swimming is also a brilliant activity to do as a family and is a known mood booster. Each March you can swim as a family not only as a way to bond and improve your wellbeing but also in support of others going through mental health challenges via Laps for Life. This is a month-long swimming challenge where people can set a swim and fundraising goal and participate. The funds raised are crucial in delivering ReachOut's services.

Use check-in tools 

Use tools to check-in with your teen to make talking about mental health less intimidating. 

"Any parent or carer will tell you that sitting down, looking your teen directly in the eye and telling them that you want to have a 'serious conversation' about their mental health is probably going to make them want to run for the hills," says Williams. "However, there are some things that parents and carers can do to get these conversations flowing."


For example, regularly ask them how they are feeling on a scale from 1 to 10.

"If your teen tells you they are a number below five you have an indication that their mood is quite low and that they might need a higher level of support right now. If your teen tells you they are feeling between a 7 and a 10, you know they are most likely in quite a good headspace.

Once your teen lets you know where they are at you can ask them why and also about what support they think they might want or need. It can also be a good idea to keep track of their score over time so that you can see if their mood is overall improving or declining."

Again, knowing what works for each specific young person is important, some teens prefer privacy, others prefer the casual nature of a conversation. 

"Picking a time when you are both calm, choosing a neutral setting and also having a think in advance about what you might like to ask your teen. Keep in mind that eye contact can make conversations challenging or intimidating so chatting in the car or on a walk can be helpful," she says. 

In our home, we use 'highlights and lowlights' as a dinner time conversation starter. Each young person is asked to share their day's highlight and lowlight. Depending on the day (and the family mood), all or some members of the family get a go, but it almost always gets a conversation going. 


Bed time is also a great opportunity to talk, with most tweens and teens happy to have an excuse not to go to sleep, and appreciating the privacy and vulnerability of their bedroom. 

Monitor warning signs

Look out for warning signs that stress could be impacting your teen. 

“These include sleep issues, changes in appetite or loss of interest in things they used to enjoy," says Williams. 

Remember, teens may exhibit signs of depression differently to adults. For example, they may isolate themselves from select people, like parents. 

"Each teen will react differently when it comes to mental health difficulties and it is often parents and carers who are the first ones to spot a change in their teens which might be a warning sign that that they are having a tough time," says Williams. 

It could be something like your teen not wanting to spend time with the people they normally do, or not wanting to play sport, video games or do other activities that they usually enjoy."

"And, if the basic things that we usually take for granted like regular sleep patterns and having a healthy appetite change for your teen, that could also be another indication that they might be having a tough time."

Take a holistic approach – even teens have bad days or weeks. Keep track of specific changes, and if you observe a few clustered together, it might be time to have a conversation or seek professional help. 


Sometimes, a simple question does the trick. I'll often say something like: "I've noticed you're quieter than usual, has something specific happened, or are you just feeling quiet today." Their response will tell you a lot. 

Seek professional help

There are a range of services available when it comes to mental health; when things become tricky at home, it’s worth seeking them out. 

“For example, you can speak to a mental health professional or get in touch with a support service such as Lifeline or Beyond Blue. ReachOut's resources for parents and carers includes information and a parents coaching service,” Williams says. 

Reassure your teen and provide as much information as you can about what help seeking will include. For example if you choose to talk to a mental health professional, it can help to let them know that if they don’t gel with the first therapist then there are other options. Let them know that you're always there for them and remind them that sometimes talking to an expert can be easier than talking to a family member. 

Join ReachOut's fundraising event, Laps for Life, to help raise funds to support the mental health of young people across Australia.  

For support young people can visit ReachOut and parents and carers can visit ReachOut Parents. If you need urgent support, please contact emergency services on 000, Lifeline 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

Feature Image: Getty.

Laps For Life
More than 1 in 3 people aged 14–25 live with mental health difficulties. Many of them don’t seek help. And, suicide remains the leading cause of death of young people in Australia. In March, set yourself a challenge – whether you’re just starting out, or aiming for a personal best and join Laps for Life. You can take part from anywhere across Australia, in the pool or in the ocean at any age or fitness level. To register visit LapsforLife.com.au..