Helping Teens Regulate: Whether by Calendar or Coffee Break
Sanity is a tough commodity when you are a teen or parent
Posted Feb 11, 2019
Lets face it: Being a teenager means life is always in flux.
Teens are constantly in development, whether it’s their bodies, brains, hormones, sexual urges, or identities, and all the while they’re managing expectations at school and home, peer pressure, and relationships.
It's like soldiers at war--they're in a high-intensity environment where they are constantly on alert and regulating their energy, minds, and the never-ending balances of adrenaline and other chemicals they just don’t know what to do with.
It’s feels like a literal game or battlefield rigged with impulse, explosive natures, and stupid decisions. Parents are always asking why they weren’t thinking—or if they even were thinking at all!
We often forget that as adults, we were once exactly where they were.
Think back to being a teen—a million balls are thrown at you and you have no idea how to make daily decisions or even how to make the one, right choice. Combine that with the litany of aforementioned physical and mental changes, pressures, and expectations and anybody could make the wrong decision nine times out of ten.
This much pressure can be downright destructive and unmanageable if it isn't regulated with the right coping mechanisms.
Let's talk regulation:
Being a teenager is akin to a soldier with PTSD or an athlete dealing with physical exertion and trauma. High-demand professionals have the affordability of a rest, break, or a breather, and afterwards there are long stretches of conditioning, physicals, training, and rehabilitation before the next fight or game.
But no one’s in the thick of it all the time. Except for teenagers.
Before they’re teenagers, kids burn themselves out in a straightforward way and go to sleep as they should without the pressures, thoughts, and demands of a young-adult brain. Once they hit adolescence, they often don’t know how to regulate sleep or the right skills to end the day.
Working with your teen on a set curfew/bedtime may feel "childish" but if explained correctly, it makes perfect sense. High-level athletes make bedtime a religion. I once heard that Tom Brady never goes to bed past 9 P.M.
Sometimes getting to bed isn't as easy as all that, and so you can also help by exploring and developing coping mechanisms.
Simply put, parents have to work with teens on the skills to be able to create happy spaces and calm-down techniques to end the day correctly. This can be something physical or even a night-time ritual. For me, it was always taking a shower. For others, teens it might be a jog or a light massage ($50 back massagers are easily accessible). Sometimes a cup of tea, warm milk, or even just a nighttime snack can work wonders.
The main thing? It has to be a solo effort that they master, like boxing, yoga, meditation (becoming increasingly popular with teens), or some kind of activity where they can cope with their own limits and energy and do it with regularity.
Today, another critical thing to do is to turn off the cellphone use BEFORE bedtime. Cellphone use by teens (or anyone) in bed can cause severe insomnia and keep the brain hyped up long afterwards.
It's not just nighttime that requires regulation:
Teens Need to Know How to Take a Breather.
For me, it was always sugar--too much and I’d crash. Too little and I’d get lethargic. Thankfully. I never developed diabetes (although it runs in my family), but I learned how to fly or crash on solo terms outside of other groups. Just me regulating me.
Consider the time-honored activity of just sitting and sipping coffee or tea. While energy drinks are too addictive and espressos might give them the jitters, there’s something about relaxing with a hot cup and learning to be at ease. If teens aren’t taught how to self-regulate on a daily basis, then they might turn to a form of self-care with alcohol or drugs, or begin to harm themselves, which can lead to suicidal ideation and physical wounds.
Unregulated coping mechanisms lead to disaster ten times out of ten. Teens need to have daily management techniques or else the stress of their developing life will push them over new edges they didn’t know were there.
Similar to the techniques outlined for sleep, self-soothing/regulation is critical and can include physical items like food and drink or personal rituals and behaviors such as meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, or even mindless activity like a engaging in a game or watching a short viral video (see how I did that?).
Teens Need to Have a Plan and a Schedule:
Something as simple as keeping a calendar can be a powerful step for teenagers learning how to use their time; seeing their life literally on the page, whether it’s an app or a time-trusted notebook, helps them not only with organization but with managing expectations.
When all those thoughts and anxieties start to build, it’s like a large bag that fills too quickly and weighs them down in depression and stress. Teens carry so much in their head—and, like a computer with too many windows open, the brain starts slowing and becomes vulnerable to attack and virus. They freeze up, stall, and are left with the weight they were trying to avoid in the first place.
Making lists, keeping calendars, and breaking down goals into manageable steps on paper is an excellent way for teens to see their life in front of them. And it’s a healthy way for parents to work physically with their children—writing life down in front of them before it gets too messy and the week bunches up into chaos.