Navigating Anxiety in Teens

By Kari Ramos, Director of School Counseling

“Psychology Today” recently published the following article written by Amy Morin titled, “10 Reasons American Teenagers Are More Anxious Than Ever”. I wanted to share this article as I found it to be clearly written, extremely insightful, and right on target.

Morin’s article is written in response to the “New York Times” article by Benoit Denizet-Lewis that was published last month called, “Why Are More American Teens Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?”  Both authors refer to the emerging data in support of what we counselors and educators have been experiencing for years now – the rise in mental health challenges among the teenage population.

The articles both identify what we all know is true about the pressure that is placed on children.

Teenagers are feeling both external and internal pressure to perform and to juggle more and more activities. Some find this pressure crippling and essentially freeze, not able to do any of the tasks that are required of them. Others become obsessed with the process of taking on more and more, almost addicted to the positive feedback that they receive for a job well done. Many end up caught in between the two extremes; bouncing back and forth, lacking the skills to find a healthy balance for themselves. These articles are clear indicators to us as educators and as parents that we have reached a critical point in which we must find ways to make meaningful changes to improve our children’s outcomes.

Follows are three tips to help parents support their students:

  • If you listen, they will talk. Active listening is not easy for parents because we are often in a rush, distracted, or we jump to conclusions as to where the conversation is headed. Active listening requires time, attentiveness, and patience. It requires us to allow our children to express things that we may not agree with or want to hear. It is human nature to try to fix their concerns, or to dismiss them entirely because they are unrealistic. When you are actively listening, resist the urge to give your opinion or to make judgements about what you are hearing. Focus on the feeling behind what they are telling you. For example, a validating statement might be “…I can only imagine how frustrated that made you feel.” When children feel understood, there is an immediate improvement in their outlook. This holds true for adults as well.
  • Acknowledge your child’s struggles, pressures, and fears. Resist the urge to judge or to dismiss their feelings. Accept that while you may not understand or agree with them, they are very real for your child. Remember that it is their experience, not yours. Doing so makes it is easier to accept their perspective. Always seek to understand.
  • Look for opportunities to model the behaviors that you want to see in your child and teach them along the way. The current population of teenagers has not had to endure boredom, emotional discomfort, or pain in the same ways that the generations before them have had to, thus they are skill-deficient. Now is the perfect time to model healthy coping skills for your child. As you are doing so, talk to them about what you are doing and why. They may not employ the same skills that work for you, but through this exchange of knowledge and wisdom, you are showing your child that a) life is not easy; even for adults, b) you have the power to control your emotional response to life’s twists and turns, and most importantly c) resiliency is a skill that you value and are able to teach.

 

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