Grow Education Special Report: Supporting Teens Through Stress and Anxiety
by Katie Mannix, Grow Education Curriculum Consultant & Maureen Burford, M.ED, Founder & Director of Creative Lives
When child care centers and schools closed down in March of this year, nearly 73 million American children under the age of 18 were instantly displaced from their routines, and responsibility of providing structure to young peoples’ remote experiences fell immediately to parents and caregivers. The task of cultivating health-promoting structures and routines can be difficult, but new research highlights just how necessary support and structure are to the health and wellness of a particularly vulnerable group: the nation’s 25 million teens.
A recent study by Stanford researchers establishes a direct correlation between teens’ executive functioning centers and resilience against stress and anxiety. The brain’s executive functioning centers, located primarily in the frontal and parietal lobes, work together much like an air traffic control center. When functioning in sync, our executive functioning centers help us regulate emotions, manage impulses, focus, memory, and multi-tasking. An in-sync executive functioning center correlates with greater resilience against stress and anxiety and a better ability to navigate new challenges.
Philosopher Ellen Tadd has spent decades studying the human energy system and its essential role in human development, including the teenage years. The non-profit organization Creative Lives bridges her discoveries into direct work with youth. Developing good function in the center of focus, the third eye chakra, is an important key to developing good executive functioning. Third eye focus promotes objective clarity, wise decision-making, a reduction in stress and anxiety, and the ability to respond rather than react to challenges.
Healthy, in-sync executive functioning centers and a well-functioning chakra system, like the body’s muscles, can be nurtured. As parents and caregivers, there are several ways we can help teens develop resilience against stress and anxiety, particularly when faced with unsettling circumstances:
- Re-establish and uphold routines that promote positive health. Planning and bringing order to the day supports the brain’s ability to focus and can be leveraged to provide moments of self-care, like taking a walk or calling a friend.
- Share simple contemplative practices. Two essential strategies from the work of Ellen Tadd include meditation to cultivate a sense of inspiration and expansion and the Tadd Technique for calming emotional upset and engaging focus. Both practices mitigate stress and anxiety; the Tadd Technique supports wise decision making.
- Take a holistic view. Use Ellen Tadd’s Framework for Wise Education as a holistic “checklist” for teens, noting how each of the seven categories in the Framework plays a critical role in wellbeing and growth.
- Model Social Behavior. Encourage outreach to friends, family, and others who play a supportive role. Executive functioning skills are honed through increasingly independent practice in the context of real-world relationships.
- Create and maintain supportive, reliable relationships. Protect time for meaningful interactions, devoid of distractions. Model what it means to be fully present in a relationship with strong listening and communication skills. Find humor in interactions; laughter has a positive, anti-stress impact on the body’s chemistry and physiology.
For additional resources to help identify the signs of stress and anxiety in teens, visit MentalHealthFirstAid.org.