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Teen Stress: One Dad Relates to his Daughter, Hives and All

My daughter is a closet stresser. She hides it really well. And this concerns me. If there is one thing I have learned in my adult life, it’s that stress is toxic. If you don’t deal with it, stress simply compounds like a high interest credit card until the bill is too high to handle.

The stresses of us parents—work, money, health, our kids—are decidedly different from those of our teens: fitting in, their looks, school, making friends.

But make no mistake, to a teen, worrying about what so-and-so said to so-and-so about what you did with you-know-who at the school dance can be just as catastrophic as the anxiety you feel waiting for that performance review from the boss you’re convinced has it in for you.

I remember being so stressed about getting good grades in seventh grade for fear of disappointing my parents that I broke out in hives right in the middle of my math class. I had to go to the nurse and everything. So, when I learned that my own seventh-grader was suffering through similar misery, it broke my heart.

(But did she come to me about it? Of course not. She went straight to Mom, who then gave me the scoop. I’m just glad my daughter was willing to bring it up at all.)

Turns out, making the jump from elementary school to middle school has been more difficult for her than expected. Bigger school, more people, more cliques, harder school work, greater expectations. A perfect recipe for stress.

And stress has a way of taking what are normally minor fears and magnifying them to the point where they can be debilitating.

In particular, I learned that my daughter, who is not comfortable being in the spotlight to begin with, was stressing about having to perform in front of the whole class in orchestra. This fear had become so all-consuming that it reduced her to tears, and…wait for it…breaking out in hives. Damn you, genetics.

It then occurred to me: was my daughter really a closet stresser? Was she hiding these worries and concerns, or—and it kills me to even consider this—was I just not paying attention? Honestly, I’m not completely sure,

But my daughter’s panic attack has acted as a wake-up call for me. I’m focusing a little more on her behavior than perhaps I have in the past.

Hopefully, this little extra attention on my part will help us defuse a situation before it reaches critical mass.

Teens stress. And when they stress, we stress, and it becomes a vicious cycle. They say alcoholism is a family disease because everybody is affected. I think you could probably say the same for stress. Once it sinks its grip into any of us, it has the ability to reach all corners of the home.

I’ll be chatting with my kids about this and letting them know that the best antidote for stress is talking. Getting things out there. Working together to find a solution. In other words, exactly like what my daughter did with Mom. While you’re talking, it doesn’t hurt to let your kids know you’ve been down their road before. It may shock your kids to know that once upon a time you were the one who was freaking out about what so-and-so said to so-and-so about what you did with you-know-who at the school dance.

But I wouldn’t, you know, go into details.

Bryan Johnston is a freelance writer, author of several books, and the Creative Director for a creative agency in Seattle, Washington. He is married, has two teens, and one large goldendoodle. He loves baseball and movies and thinks A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is the most enjoyable book he’s ever read.

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