VALPARAISO | A group of adults learned Tuesday how to help teenagers recognize, reduce and cope with stress in healthy ways.
More than 100 parents, youth workers, educators and counselors attended American Teens in Crisis: Teens Under Stress, hosted by a Positive Approach to Teen Health at Strongbow Inn.
A variety of speakers touched on topics including coping skills, depression, substance abuse and breaking stereotypes. The event also featured a discussion by a panel of experts in the fields of education, law enforcement and mental health.
PATH Executive Director Donna Golob said stress can cause teens to become depressed, abuse alcohol and drugs or even commit suicide.
School and family are the main triggers for their stress, and they have more opportunities to be exposed to stressors through social media and other modern technologies.
At school, they are under pressure to learn quickly, get good grades and go to college. At home, they are impacted by their parents' financial or relationship problems because their parents are sharing too much information with them, Golob said.
“Parents have befriended their child,” she said. “Kids need to be kids. They are not meant to be mom's best friend.”
Parents do need to talk to their teens about stress and to get involved in their lives, however. Teens also need to know how their parents feel about high-risk behavior.
“It's our responsibility to let kids know this is not acceptable,” Golob said.
Jackie Gasparovic, a clinical social worker with Porter Starke Services, said adults can serve as positive role models for healthy ways to cope with stress.
“We need to get back to basics," she said. "We need to start taking better care of ourselves and be able to model that to the people around us."
This includes eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and achieving a balance in life. It's also important to limit teens' extracurricular activities and teach them it's OK to say no.
Adults also must learn how to communicate effectively with their teens and to use nonjudgmental listening, Gasparovic said. Instead of lecturing, she recommends a “decision tree” or “choreographed discussion” to help teens make good choices.
Bethany Thomas, communication manager with PATH, said while the seminar gave adults tools to make an “immediate difference” in the lives of teens, it also united groups such as EMPOWER Porter County and the Porter County Substance Abuse Council who are working together to address the issue.
“It takes a village,” Thomas said. “It's all about community collaboration. We have to do it as a team.”
For more information about PATH, visit www.pathblazer.org or call (219) 548-8783.