Rates of anxiety among teenagers in the U.S. have been on the rise in recent years. Between 2016 and 2019, the number of teens diagnosed with an anxiety disorder went up by 24% (Osorio, 2022). For this reason, understanding the implications of anxiety on the lives of teens is becoming increasingly important. As more and more adolescents are beginning to experience symptoms of anxiety, parents and caregivers may find themselves wondering how to best support their child. For this reason, we will be discussing some important tips for parenting teens with anxiety. Understanding what anxiety disorders are, knowing common symptoms of anxiety, and having the tools necessary to support your teen in their struggle with anxiety are all crucial ways you can be there for your kid.
Anxiety. It’s likely a word you’ve heard before. But, what does it really mean? According to the American Psychological Association (2022), anxiety is “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” Anxiety in itself is an important and natural response to danger (healthdirect, 2020). We need anxiety to tell us when something is wrong or doesn’t sit right. Chronic anxiety and anxiety disorders, however, can interfere with everyday functioning. There are many types of anxiety disorders, two of the most common among adolescents are generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder (Siegel & Dickstein, 2011). Generalized anxiety disorder is “excessive, ongoing anxiety and worry that is difficult to control and interferes with day-to-day activities” (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). Social anxiety disorder is an “intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others” and can affect people’s lives and ability to complete day-to-day tasks (National Institute of Mental Health, 2022).
Both generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder can have negative implications on the life of a teenager. Some symptoms of anxiety disorders include persistent worrying, indecisiveness, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, and irritability (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). These symptoms may interfere with a teen’s social life and school work in a variety of ways. For instance, completing homework may be particularly demanding for teens with generalized anxiety disorder. Additionally, social anxiety disorder may make establishing friendships, which are vital to social skill development and overall well-being for teens, more difficult.
Now that we know a bit more about what anxiety is and how it can impact a teenager’s life, let’s look at some ways that parents and caregivers can support their teens if they are experiencing anxiety (Raising Children Network, 2022):
- Listen – acknowledging and validating your teen’s feelings shows that you care about what they are going through.
- Gently encourage and model healthy choices – doing breathing exercises and moderate physical activity (e.g., taking a walk) are linked to lower levels of anxiety.
- Seek professional help – if your teen expresses an interest in professional help (e.g., therapy), do what you can to provide them with support and utilize the mental health resources available in your community.
Anxiety is a lifelong journey, and it’s important to note that these tips will likely not eliminate your teen’s anxiety. They may, however, help alleviate the intensity of the symptoms of anxiety to some degree. One of the most important ways that you can support your teen is by meeting them where they’re at when it comes to their anxiety and encouraging them to get the help that they need at their own pace. It is up to your child to choose how and when they want to cope with their anxiety, but you can be there for them when they need it by listening, modeling healthy choices, and utilizing mental health resources.
American Psychological Association. (2022, August). Anxiety. American Psychological Association. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/
healthdirect. (2020, October). Anxiety. healthdirect. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/anxiety
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (n.d.). Generalized anxiety disorder.
Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20360803
National Institute of Mental Health. (2022). Social anxiety disorder: More than just shyness.
National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness
Osorio, A. (2022, August 23). Research update: Children’s anxiety and depression on the
rise. Georgetown University Health Policy Institute . Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://ccf.georgetown.edu/2022/03/24/research-update-childrens-anxiety-and-depression-on-the-rise/
Raising Children Network (Australia). (2022, October 19). Anxiety and how to manage it:
Pre-teens and teenagers. Raising Children Network. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/mental-health-physical-health/stress-anxiety-depression/anxiety
Siegel, R. S., & Dickstein, D. P. (2011). Anxiety in adolescents: Update on its diagnosis and
treatment for primary care providers. Adolescent health, medicine and therapeutics, 3, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.2147/AHMT.S7597