It’s no secret that the teenage years are difficult, especially in this day and age. Witnessing your teenager go through hardships and not knowing how to help them can cause you to feel helpless and scared. My aim here is to help parents of teenagers struggling with anxiety better understand as well as learn ways to help.
So, what is going on with teenagers? During adolescence, massive biological and psychological maturation floods them with feelings of anxiety. Hormones, changes in brain chemistry, and an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex can destabilize teens and create a fragile sense of self, irregular moods, and poor impulse control (Grover, 2020). All this together, teenagers are left overwhelmed with emotions that they might not understand. On top of this insecurity and uncertainty are the daily struggles of social, sexual, and school tension.
These are pretty universal struggles teenagers have experienced across decades. However, there are a whole new set of challenges teenagers are facing in the current climate. Warren Getler, author of the novel PANIC, uses the term “Age of Anxiety” to describe the times we live in. Why is this? Researchers note that nearly 20% of the population suffers from anxiety disorders, and according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 80% of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not getting treatment (Grover, 2020). Consider what they have to deal with that past generations didn’t: school shooters, catastrophic global warming predictions, terrorist threats, the opiate crisis, toxic social media, insane college debt, competitive standardized testing, compulsive technology use, and now as this is being written, a global pandemic.
If you sense that your teenager is anxious, there are things that you can do to help. An important thing to keep in mind is that although it’s okay to lose your temper now and then, constant yelling, guilting, shaming, and other aggressive choices will just drive your teenager away from you and further increase their anxiety levels. Grover (2020) outlines five ways to help lower anxiety in your teenager:
- Model the behaviors you want to see. Do your best to model restraint and keep communication open.
- De-escalate conflicts. Teens are impulsive and reactive, adults shouldn’t be. When conflicts get heated, try stepping away, taking a breath, and chilling out. Once you come back, try to address the core feelings that are driving that conflict rather than repeating a reactive loop.
- Hold family meetings. Don’t wait for a problem to emerge to address it. Family meetings can be helpful when they are proactive rather than reactive to events. They are also a great time to show appreciation for what your child has done right, plan activities, and discuss chores or conflicts. Parents sometimes make the mistake of discussing hot button topics at the worst time, such as in the middle of an argument or when everyone is exhausted. This is where having set family meetings can be helpful to provide healthy communication.
- Maintain structure, limits, and boundaries. Structure soothes anxiety. Family routines such as dinners, curfews, bedtimes, and more can help teenagers to feel safe and cared for. Although it’s good to be flexible, teens can often go off the rails when things are extremely inconsistent. Structure, limits, and boundaries are important for coping with anxiety.
- Tech detox as a family. Technology is clearly everywhere nowadays. Be the role model for your child and put your phone down. Look for creative outlets that don’t need to include technology, such as exercise, music, and art. As much as you want to care for your child, the best way to help your teenager is to help yourself first. If you are also overwhelmed and living with anxiety, you can’t parent effectively. Self-care is important!
Grover, S. (2020, February 14). Raising Teenagers in the Age of Anxiety.