It’s no secret that today’s teens are stressed. According to surveys conducted by the nonprofit Challenge Success, 95% of middle and high school students are sleep deprived, 77% experience stress-related health symptoms, and 63% say they are “constantly worried” about academics.

Researchers attribute rising teen stress levels to the same factors that drive adult stress, including unrealistic expectations and unrelenting pressure to succeed. Between homework, extracurricular activities, jobs, friends, and family, teens’ schedules are often just as packed as those of their parents.

One stress strategy that’s often overlooked for teens is simply… simplifying. With these six ideas, parents can help teens stress less, find fulfillment, and embrace the idea that sometimes, less is more.

  1. Know what matters most. Simplifying our lives is about making more room for the things that are important to us and letting go of the things that aren\’t. To do that, we have to know what we value and what gives our lives meaning. Talking with your teen about what is important to them – and to the whole family – is a foundational step in helping them figure out what to keep and what to let go. These talks don’t have to be super-serious. Questions like, “If you could only choose one ____ or ____, what would you pick?” are light-hearted openers that invite deeper conversations. Teens are more likely to embrace simplification if you keep the emphasis on fun and fulfillment.

  2. Create morning and evening routines. Stress thrives on chaos. One of the first places to simplify is the times that tend to get chaotic for busy families: the start and end of each day. Planning an advance-prep evening routine makes mornings go more smoothly. Teens can get in the habit of choosing clothes or putting lunch together so they don’t have to think about it when they’re rushing to get ready. Other ideas for routines include creating a bathroom schedule and weekly menu, setting up a family charging station, synchronizing transportation, and leaving gym bags, instrument cases, and backpacks packed and by the door.

  3. Clear the clutter. When teens can’t find their homework or favorite hoodie because their room is always a disaster, it’s time for a clutter clean-out. Clutter makes it hard for teens to think clearly, focus, and accomplish tasks. Instead of targeting only your teen’s space, make it a whole-house project. Take turns picking music to make it fun. Label bags or bins for items to keep, toss, or donate, and let your teen choose a favorite charity to receive donated items. Once the clutter is cleared, consider an organization upgrade. Tons of colorful, fun organization options are available for teens, from rolling carts to desktop organizers to technology docking stations.

  4. Reduce choices. We all feel overwhelmed when we have too many options to choose from (as any shopper staring at a wall of toothpaste or toilet paper will tell you). But it\’s developmentally important for teens to have choices, along with the increased autonomy and responsibility of making them. Parents can strike a balance by filtering their teen’s options. For example, “We have the bandwidth for you to do two extracurriculars this year; which two are you really excited about?” or “We can have eggs or smoothies for breakfast; your choice.” Teens can always speak up if they want something that’s not offered, but often they’re happy to have some of the pressure to decide taken off their plate.

  5. Teach your teen to say ‘no.’ It sounds simple, but saying ‘no’ can be tough for teens. Reasons include fear of conflict, confrontation, disappointing others, or classic FOMO. But teens need to learn how to set healthy boundaries for themselves, and that means getting comfortable saying ‘no’ sometimes. Teach teens to stop and check in with themselves before automatically agreeing to a new invitation or activity. Does it feel fun, interesting, or important? Does it conflict with a previous commitment? Is there something they would rather be doing? Are they feeling any pressure from themselves or others? Helping them access their internal compass makes it easier for them to say no when they need to.

  6. Create a family downtime ritual. As always, parents must model the behavior they want kids to embrace. One way to make simplicity more meaningful is to schedule consistent family time – maybe every Thursday night or Sunday afternoon – and intentionally dial down the intensity. Play board games, watch a movie, or make dinner together, but keep it relaxed and low-key. You might agree to silence your cell phones or turn off notifications and just focus on enjoying each other’s company. This lets your teen know that no matter how busy life gets, some things are sacred, and choosing to do and have a little less gives us a lot more of what matters most.

Simplifying can feel like a radical way to parent because we live in a culture in which “busyness” is a badge of success. But, the rising numbers of teens navigating stress and mental health challenges affirm that opportunities to help your teen simplify and focus are far more likely to assure their success. 

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