How going back to "simpler" times can help teens de-stress

Parents, if you see your teens rereading books you think they should’ve outgrown, or watching reruns of old childhood TV shows and movies, do not stop them.

While it might seem a little bit off, these habits may actually be simple remedies to help them recharge from stress.

Seventy-four percent of teens report having more than one symptom of stress, like feeling irritable, lying awake at night tor getting headaches. Psychologist and CBS News contributor Lisa Damour takes an in-depth look at the research on teen stress in her latest New York Times article, “When a Teenager’s Coping Mechanism is SpongeBob.”

“It’s really stressful to be a teenager. There’s a lot of expectations and they’re rising and shifting all of the time and sometimes kids go back to go forward,” Damour explained on “CBS This Morning” Thursday.

According to Damour, teens like to revert “back to a time when things were simpler” during times of stress.

“Often they do things that parents may not recognize as healthy coping. So they’ll go back and they’ll watch TV shows and movies or read books that they really liked when they were really young. Or they’ll do really repetitive activities,” Damour said.

Parents, too, can assist stressed teens by accepting things as they are and allowing breaks from homework and studying. They can also encourage positive coping responses with calm activities and by making themselves available, addressing teens’ challenges or feelings, and modeling good problem-solving. 

But Damour also stressed that different teens cope with stress differently. The teens Damour spoke with in her research used a wide range of coping strategies, from baking to playing with the family dog to crying in a long shower. 

“I think we can suggest strategies if teenagers don’t have them, but one kid who reads a magazine may not be the kid who goes for a run,” Damour said. 

But Damour said parents should step in when the “costs look like they’re outweighing the benefits.”

“So if a kid comes home, watches two reruns and starts their homework, they’re decompressed and they’re back at it. I think it’s easy to get lost in video games for hours. And I think then a parent might say, ‘You know, I think it’s maybe time to actually set that aside so that you don’t build more stress by not getting your homework done.’”

Another sign it’s time for parents to step in is if teens are unable to “bounce back” from the stress.

“What we want to see is that their coping strategy is equal to their stressors. So we don’t want a kid who is stressed day after day and cannot bounce back,” Damour said.