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How to Parent an Anxious Teen ”
There are a lot of things for modern teens to be anxious about, and that’s unavoidable. Situational anxiety, for example, can stem from learning to drive since teen drivers have a higher rate of fatal crashes.
Teens may experience social anxiety, or they might feel anxious about things like gun violence or even peer pressure.
COVID-19 has likely heightened anxiety to a severe level for many teens, whether they were anxious before the pandemic or not. There aren’t a lot of social outlets for teens who are dealing with anxiety currently since many states still have in-person learning prohibited.
It’s a difficult time for many teens, so how can you manage to parent an anxious teen?
The following are things to know that may be potentially helpful if you’re parenting a teen who has anxiety.
What to Know About Anxiety
Having some short-term anxiety is normal. Everyone experiences it from time to time. For example, if your teen has anxiety before an exam, that would likely be a normal situation. It should eventually decline and then go away altogether when it’s based on a typical scenario.
Anxiety is useful to us in many ways because it helps prepare us for actual dangers. Anxiety at some level can help us stay motivated to do our best as well.
If we’re facing a situation where we might need to respond quickly, it’s our anxiety that helps that happen, which is known as fight-or-flight mode.
The problem starts to occur when our bodies are constantly reacting to a perceived danger that doesn’t necessarily exist. This is chronic anxiety, which goes outside the realm of what’s considered normal.
Children and teens, as well as adults, can experience physical, mental, and behavioral anxiety.
Physical anxiety can include symptoms like rapid breathing, feeling short of breath, stomach discomfort, sweating, shaking, or chest pain. Other physical anxiety symptoms might include feeling a lump in the throat or the perception of choking or numbness and tingling.
Sometimes, a teen might be having a panic attack if they’re having severe physical symptoms of anxiety.
One of the common behaviors that you might notice in your anxious teen is avoidance. For example, your teen might avoid going to certain activities or avoid progressing in particular milestones because of their anxiety.
Avoidance is not a good long-term coping strategy.
So what can you do?
Create a Low-Anxiety Home
There are going to be certain elements of your teen’s anxiety there isn’t much you can do about.
At the same time, there are also things you can do.
One thing that’s important is to create a home that’s not going to promote anxiety.
Your home should be low in clutter and tidy. Have your teen help you with household chores. Physical clutter can significantly worsen symptoms of anxiety in people of any age.
When you’re decluttering, think about your teen’s sleep environment and how you can make it better for rest.
With adequate sleep, symptoms of anxiety might not be eliminated, but they can be reduced.
Check out your teen’s bed and bedding, and make sure it’s comfortable. Also, encourage your teen to follow a consistent sleep schedule whenever possible.
While you want to have some level of flexibility because that’s essential when it comes to parenting teens, in general, you do want to try to keep a normal routine.
An anxious teen may do well when they know what to expect, and they can maintain control over certain aspects of their life.
Maybe you also do some things with your teen that help with anxiety, like yoga or meditation. It can become a practice that benefits both of you.
What Not to Do
There are certain things that aren’t going to be helpful if you’re parenting an anxious teen, and sometimes they can even be harmful.
First, you shouldn’t minimize your teen’s feelings of anxiety. They’re very real to them, and if you minimize them, it can make them feel like you think it’s stupid.
You shouldn’t make promises either. For example, don’t give the false hope that everything is going to be okay or that their anxiety will eventually go away because there’s a high chance it won’t, at least not without treatment.
If your teen is emotional, don’t respond with your own amplified emotions. If you’re overly angry or stressed, that’s going to make them feel the same.
As a parent, there is a tendency to want to fix everything for our children. Sometimes we can’t do that, though, and we shouldn’t pretend that we can.
What You Can Do
Along with helping create a good home environment, you can ask questions when your teen is anxious. Maybe, by talking to your teen and encouraging them to share with you, the two of you can come up with coping strategies that are healthy and effective.
You can also validate what your teen is feeling, by telling them you’re sorry about how they feel, rather than downplaying it.
Find a Therapist, If Your Teen is Ready
The best way for a teenager to work through their anxiety and start to come to some sort of resolution is by working with a professional counselor or therapist. Don’t try to force your teen into seeing someone, but gently explore the topic.
If your teen is open to it, you can start to look for someone who might be a good fit for them.
When you’re choosing a therapist, you really want someone with extensive experience with teens. Teens aren’t just younger adults. Their mental health needs can be very different, and their problems are unique to their age group in many instances.
You might also want to learn a bit more about the specific approaches that a therapist can use, so you can decide, along with your teen, which one you’re most comfortable with and find a therapist that specializes in that.
It’s not easy when your teen has anxiety, but again, it is a very real mental health condition, just like a physical condition, and it needs to be treated as such.
How to Parent an Anxious Teen