Talking to Your Teen about Anxiety
Talking to Your Teen About Anxiety
By: Marissa Ross
Parenting a teenager is hard. Parenting a teenager who may be struggling with a mental health disorder such as anxiety? Even harder. Beginning a conversation with your teenager about something as simple as homework or how their day was at school may often be met with silence, anger, or one-word answers which can make discussing more significant issues, such as anxiety, seem like an unimaginable feat. While your teenager may show that they prefer to be alone in their everyday struggles, I have found that this is not always the case.
Most teenagers I have worked with recognize that they may benefit from the support of their parents or caregivers, but they are unsure how to start the conversation or what would come of the conversation if it were to be had. Some teenagers fear that their parents may think differently of them in a negative way or that their struggles will be dismissed immediately based on their perception of their parents. Some teenagers may simply be too preoccupied with the stressors of school, friends, extracurriculars, and a huge global pandemic to even find the time or energy to begin the conversation with their parents.
So, parents, let’s talk about some ways you may be able to open the discussion with your teenager about their anxiety in a way that lets them know you are there for them, supporting them, and willing to meet them where they are at as they manage their symptoms.
CASUAL CHECK IN. Ever been put on the spot before? Yeah, it is stressful and anxiety provoking in and of itself for anyone, let alone someone managing symptoms of anxiety. Direct questioning and formal sit-down discussions can be helpful for certain issues, but checking in on your teenager’s anxiety symptoms in a way that encourages them to at least consider talking about what they are experiencing may take a little creativity. Try to catch your teen in a moment where you both are engaged in an activity such as watching a movie, cooking dinner, or on a car ride to begin opening that door in a way that does not make them feel as they are sitting under a spotlight. Making statements such as “It’s been a lot for everyone this year. I wonder how you are doing with all of this?” or “I noticed you have been (tired lately? worried? overwhelmed?) I just wanted to check in and see how things have been going for you?” can be helpful in acknowledging that times are difficult, that you are aware of how they are feeling, and that you are here to talk when they are ready.
VALIDATE. As adults, it can be hard for us to remember the times of being a teenager when the pressure of high school academics, social groups, and extracurriculars dominated our whole self. Compared to the stress of our full time jobs and families now, it is easy to minimize the stressors that a teenager is experiencing. However, it’s important to remember that their world is all they know at this time and as a parent, you can do your best to build that close relationship through validating their experiences. It takes A LOT for a teenager to share what is stressing them out with any adult, let alone their parents, so letting them know that you appreciate them opening up to you and making them feel heard can be a meaningful step in supporting them through their anxiety.
HELP THEM KNOW THEY ARE NOT ALONE. Did you know that about 4.4 millions children ages 3-17 years old have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder within the United States, according to the CDC? Let’s take a minute to re-read that sentence. The key word here is “diagnosed,” which means that there could be plenty more children and teens managing anxiety disorders undiagnosed without the support of a mental health or medical professional. This means that your teenager is not alone. Letting them know that is important, too. It doesn’t have to be through citing a research statistic, but perhaps self-disclosing (if you are comfortable, it pertains to you, and you are ready) about anxiety symptoms you have managed. Perhaps they have a favorite hobby, such as singing, where you can research famous people who partake in that same hobby that also struggle with mental health disorders such as anxiety and let your teenager know that everyone, no matter how famous or intelligent, has challenges that they face every day.
MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE AT. Parents, I know it can be tough to see your teenager struggling. Sleepless nights, anxiety or panic attacks, increased fears, avoidance behaviors…these are just some of the symptoms anxiety can induce in your teenager. While it is so hard to see your teenager struggling with these, know that it is even harder to be the person actually experiencing these symptoms. If your teenager has begun to open up to you about their anxiety, sit with that great achievement for a moment. Pushing your teenager to disclose more than they would like to, dictating your teenager to engage in activities they do not have the coping skills yet for, or having unrealistic expectations regarding the speed of their progress in therapy can hurt your relationship with them and exacerbate existing symptoms of anxiety they are dealing with. Support, encouragement, and genuine concern without judgment can be extremely beneficial in helping your teenager through their most difficult moments with anxiety.
CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF. Parents, this can be a lot to process for you! Check in with yourself from time to time to assess how you are coping with this. Are you able to maintain a non-judgmental tone when engaging in conversation with your teenager? Do you have negative thoughts or feelings towards mental health disorders in general or assumptions that you are unsure are true? Do you have a hard time staying calm when seeing your teenager experiencing anxiety symptoms or when discussing their symptoms? These are all normal things to experience from time to time. It can be helpful to have your own personal therapist as you navigate this chapter of your parenting life with your teenager or a support group to be a part of.
If you or your teenager is struggling with symptoms of anxiety or you, as a parent, are having a difficult time opening up that line of communication, please do not hesitate to reach out for support. You don’t have to do this alone, and neither does your teenager.
Contact us for more information:
Marissa Ross, MA, EdS, LAC
Licensed Associate Counselor
NJ: Trinity Psychological Services, LLC
NY: Trinity Psychological Services, PLLC
Phone: 551-250-1017 Ext. 7