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Teens Under Stress and Pressure: How Can You Help?

Find out what experts say about the simple ways you can bring serenity back to your child's life.

For Amy Scheibe, tolerating meltdowns didn't end after her son, Bo, graduated from toddlerhood. When he was 10 years old, he started having serious fits of screaming and sobbing that he wasn't good enough for his parents. After one particularly bad incident, she and Bo ended up cuddled on the couch, where he finally admitted that he missed the way things used to be. "You don't tickle me anymore," he said. Turns out Bo was simply going through a typical—but stressful—developmental hurdle: the desire to become more independent while still yearning for a little parental hand-holding.

In the years leading up to and during puberty, hormonal surges are a lot like biological fireworks, skyrocketing even little problems into big explosions. And your kid has no idea how to handle them. In fact, research suggests the region of the brain involved in planning, organizing and making decisions—all things that help us cope with stress—is still developing during puberty. That's why we shouldn't expect kids to always have the best judgment or react to pressure well. But they can learn the best way to address and manage it.

Check out these six common tween and teen stressors—submitted from real moms via e-mail and Facebook—and smart ways to overcome them.

Friend Stress

My 13-year-old daughter's group of friends is wealthy. While we're financially comfortable, we can't afford all the expensive stuff that these kids have. My daughter broke down in tears recently when I told her I couldn't get her the Lululemon hoodie the other girls are wearing. What can I do to make her feel less pressured to have material things?

Ask her questions like, "Do you really want someone to like you because of your clothes?" and "What if next week the hoodie is out and leather jackets are in?" You might even share some of your own experiences. She should come to realize you can't use things to keep true friends. But let's face it: "Sometimes kids do need to feel like they're part of the pack," says Dorothy Stubbe, M.D., program director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center. If you can't buy that hoodie, make your daughter aware that you empathize with her. Try saying, "I know you want to be like your friends, and the hoodie is really cool, but right now it's more than I'm comfortable paying." If you think the hoodie is important—maybe she missed the last trend or is having a particularly bad month—look for it on eBay or at a discount store or site. Or if she has an allowance or a job, let her chip in.

My 12-year-old son has a developmental disability that leads to problems making friends at school. He's being picked on—and therefore is someone to keep away from. I've considered homeschooling, but it would be too difficult. How can I help him fit in more easily?

Start by talking to the student counselor or school psychologist about socialization groups. These can be small, adult-supervised environments, like a special lunch group, where your tween can meet other kids having trouble making friends. Sometimes schools will even pair your child up with an older teen "buddy"—a mentor who may have dealt with similar problems. You can bolster his self-esteem too. Is he good at art? Enroll him in an art class on the weekend. Does he like lending a hand? Talk to his teacher about a job he can do. Encourage the friendships he does have and talk to him about why kids can be cruel. "In my practice, I try to make children understand that the teasing usually has nothing to do with them," says Arden Greenspan, a New York City-based family psychotherapist and author of What Do You Expect? She's a Teenager! "These children may be feeling confused, hurt or angry from a home situation and are just looking for an easy target."

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