Stanford researchers have found that teenagers who had to handle stressful situations or travel between distant places much better than those who were spared any such burden. The study of three teenage groups, one of them with mothers who reported only controlling stress, another with parents who reported moderately negative stress and a third with parents who did not experience any stress, found that teens living with stress control reported the least stress and psychological distress. But those whose moms were most stressed were far less likely to report distress.
“The results show that adolescents who perceive their parents to be stress agents actually have a lower quantity of distress,” said co-author Anil Jain, assistant professor of psychiatry. “If there is no stress, they are less distressed.”
Dr. Jain, who works in Stanford’s School of Medicine’s Family and Community Medicine and Pain Medicine programs, said previous studies in his research have shown that stress regulation is important for healthy childhood development.
However, Dr. Jain said, stress arises when parents unintentionally do things that make the child feel helpless or in some way abandons him or her. That is bad for a child’s cognitive development, but also for the child’s psychological well-being, he said.
“The results also show that adolescents who perceive their parents to be stress agents actually have a lower quantity of distress,” Jain said. “If there is no stress, they are less distressed.”
Dr. Jain said one way to improve parental stress control, or at least feel better about being under it, would be to encourage parents to seek help for themselves.
“While we have to expect stress in parenting, it is also important to ease children into the experience,” he said. “For that reason, we also urge parents to get extra help to reduce their stress.”