How to Help Teens with Anxiety
Tuesday, April 11, 2023 3:53 PM

How to Help Teens with Anxiety

Tuesday, April 11, 2023 3:53 PM
Tuesday, April 11, 2023 3:53 PM

If your teen is experiencing anxiety. You are not alone.

Anxiety is on the rise in teens. According to a recent survey, anxiety has surpassed depression as greater numbers of teens struggle with mental health issues.

While anxiety can be a normal part of being a teen, there is a significant difference between normal worry and intrusive, chronic anxiety.

As parents and caring adults, we desire the best for our kids. We hope they will be happy, healthy, and resilient when facing life’s challenges.

Where is This Anxiety Coming From?

There are many factors contributing to the rise of anxiety.    

Let’s start with headlines—our kids face global fears, school pressure, peer pressure, social media fatigue, body issues, to name a few. For some, we can throw overprotective parents into the mix.

Look at the impact and aftereffects of the pandemic—severely disrupting teens’ regular learning and social interaction. Many suffered the loss of their supportive network because of either online learning or limited classroom participation. All of this led to an incredible time of isolation which continues to impact the mental health of our young people.

Adolescence has always been challenging. Add the emergence of social media and the constant pressure of living in a 24/7 digital world to the natural chaos of the teen years. Our teenagers are exposed to a great deal of external anxiety-producing sources.

Anxiety Sources

There are multiple layers of possible anxiety-causing agents.

1. Their Bodies

The physical and emotional changes significantly cause anxiety and stress for many young people.

How They Are PerceivedEvery young person has a greater sense of how their peers observe them. While this is a normal development, it can be challenging for some.

Their Performance – This shows up primarily as a fear of not doing well. It is often rooted in a sense of perfectionism that can sometimes come from parental influence, peer pressure, or their internal feeling of wanting to be perfect to avoid conflict or criticism.

In many middle and upper-class communities, according to psychologist Richard Weissbhourd, today’s most “potential ingredient” is the pressure to achieve across academic subjects and a wide range of extracurricular activities, leading to the stress of putting together an impressive college admission packet.

Social Media – Our teens spend countless hours on smartphones texting, messaging, and engaging on social media platforms. Unfortunately, while social media helps teens stay connected and maintain closer ties with friends and family, it can also promote cyberbullying and negatively impact young people’s self-esteem.

Family – Family dynamics such as a divorce, the death of a family member, a recent move, and other events in a teen’s family can produce significant anxiety.

Anxiety Symptoms

Let’s be honest. All teens experience some anxiety at times. Anxiety comes from a crazy mix of adrenaline and cortisol as a reaction to stress. And most of the time, the stress and anxiety may feel intense, but often, it can be helpful. For example, let’s think about a teen’s typical weekly calendar. They may be facing events like a classroom discussion, music recital, an audition, sporting event, giving a presentation, flirting. Even thinking about asking someone to the school dance can be intense.

For some teens, anxiety can become overwhelming and intrusive. When that happens, it can negatively impact their physical, mental, and spiritual health. It can also hamper their relationships, academic performance, and day-to-day living.

Teens display a wide variety of symptoms when it comes to anxiety. These can range from your child behaving like a cloistered monk (or nun) hiding in their room to a mini version of the Incredible Hulk.

Many times, parents and concerned adults will miss the symptoms of anxiety because teens are often pretty good and hiding their feelings.

As we look behind the curtain at some of the causes of anxiety, the reality is that many young people have too few opportunities to practice and build resilience. More than in previous generations, many teens have all their basic needs met, and they have few opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them. In addition, in some communities, parents are hyper-involved in their teens’ academic and social lives.

As a result, when uncomfortable or difficult situations arise, many teens don’t have the skills to deal with them on their own.

Here are some of the usual symptoms of anxiety:

  • Sleep issues, including a shift in sleep patterns
  • Constant fears and worries about everyday life
  • Extreme self-consciousness or sensitivity to criticism
  • Repeated reassurance seeking
  • Increased withdrawal or isolation
  • Physical complaints, particularly headaches or stomach aches
  • Struggles with concentration
  • A drop in grades or performance (band, sports, extracurricular activities)
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Avoiding difficult situations

Action Plan

Parents, along with other caring adults, can help build an environment based on self-worth and value. As a result, teens find security knowing they are profoundly loved and accepted by God, rather than, finding themselves caught in the twin traps of perfectionism and performance. Teens are constantly asking themselves, “Am I good enough?” As adults, we can model how to talk about anxiety and fears from our life and God’s Word.

Please encourage them to talk about their anxiety.

Being able to talk about things that make them anxious can drastically reduce the amount of anxiety your child is experiencing. Talking and listening—not preaching or advice-giving—help you and your teen understand what is going on. When you can gain an understanding of your child’s issue, you can help them manage their anxiety.

Acknowledge their feelings.

Be supportive, not controlling. Your teen’s anxiety is natural, even if what they are anxious about is unlikely to happen. This means that it is essential to acknowledge their anxiety while at the same time letting them know you are confident they will be able to handle it. Our goal is to raise resilient children. Avoid saying something like “try not to worry.” When you respond that way, they may hear that worry is not a valid feeling.

Instead, let them know you understand their feelings and believe in them. Acknowledge and encourage brave behavior.

Help them become more resilient by learning how to handle challenging situations. Have conversations where you discuss responses to challenges your teen will face. Acknowledge that some situations will be anxiety-provoking, but keep them in proper perspective.

Clear the Lines of Communication About Their Life, and Anxiety

Talk about specific situations and encourage them to look at ways to solve their problem or mitigate the situation.

Rather than avoiding their anxieties, help your teen face them and develop coping skills.

The first and most important thing you can do, is model for your kids healthy ways of managing anxiety. Anxious parents might verbalize their worries to their kids, who then take those worries and concerns as their own. Our kids learn that certain situations lead mom and dad to become anxious, which can leave the kids not only feeling their parent’s anxiety but also acting it out.

How do you encourage brave behavior in your child?

One of the easiest things to do is help your child set a small goal for things they might be anxious about. Example: your fourteen-year-old has to give a five-minute book report in front of her class, and she is freaking out. As a baby step, encourage her to practice out loud with no one around, then in front of a mirror, and eventually in front of the family. This gentle, gradual exposure to a stressful event can give her a boost of self-confidence as she prepares for her assignment.

Five Proven Ways You Can be an Encourager

  1. Teach the benefits of positive self-talk. For example: “I can handle this. I’ve been in scary situations and have gotten through them.” Read Philippians 4:13 together.
  2. Demonstrate how to be self-compassionate, to appreciate your (and their) uniqueness. For example: “I might do my task differently than other people. This is what works for me.” Look up Mark 12:30-31.
  3. Promote assertiveness. How often have you wished you had asked a question about a given situation? If your teen is stuck, let them know it is entirely okay to be assertive and say, “I need some help with this.” You can lead this conversation with reading James 1:5 together.
  4. Pray encouraging prayers with, and over, them. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17.
  5. Learn the “biblical mindfulness” principle to help your teen calm their mind. 2 Corinthians 10:5.

Helping Your Kids Feel Safe and Secure

Part of our jobs as parents is to build resilience and self-confidence in our teens and help them recognize their ability to solve problems independently. When our kids feel safe and secure, their resilience muscles become more robust, and they can more effectively deal with the ups and downs of adolescence.

What You Can Do

  • Investing time with your teen, preparing meals together, going for walks, and doing exclusive events with them. Try having a particular date with mom or dad or with other family members.
  • Having routines and other family rituals can help children feel safe and secure.
  • Being involved with a local body of believers with a healthy youth group can significantly improve your teen’s sense of safety and security. In addition, as they grow up around other believers, they can experience the benefits of belonging to a caring community.

Know When It’s Time to Get Help

If you suspect your teen’s anxiety may be getting out of control, this would be a great time to seek professional help.

If your teen:

  • Consistently feels nervous, edgy, overwhelmed, and can’t stop worrying
  • Is having issues with insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Has anxiety that interferes with school, socializing, and everyday activities

Where to go for help:

You are the first line of defense for your kids. Raising children is the most challenging thing you will ever do, but you are not alone. Please reach out to your church, your friends, and your community. God will lead, guide, and direct you.

Check in with your family medical provider. They will be able to assess your teen and provide necessary referrals, recommendations, and resources.