For the Parent of an Anxious Teen

Understand Your Teen’s Stress & Anxiety (and What To Do About It)

Do you have an anxious teen? Everyone experiences stress from time to time. Anxiety, however, causes a person to suffer with an overactive stress response almost all the time.

For a teenager, struggling with anxiety is particularly overwhelming. This is because of the growth and change process that they are already navigating. An anxious teen needs help from a parent who is willing to learn about how anxiety tends to impact them.

Anxiety is a persistent obstacle that can seem to overwhelming. Seeing your teen struggle with either stress or anxiety is difficult. If you are unsure whether your teen is just moody or stressed out, or whether they suffer from a chronic emotional burden like anxiety, this article will help you observe and respond to your teen in ways that give you clarity and give your teen some relief.

To learn ways to apply strategies and start creating positive change, download my free workbook, The Parent-Teen Guide’s Anxiety Approach Plan.

Identifying Anxiety in Teenagers

There are a number of ways that anxiety manifests, including some that you wouldn’t expect. For example, trouble focusing or outbursts of anger are often signs of a struggle with anxious thinking or physical anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety often occurs along with a form of depression which can include “foggy” thinking and negative or judgmental perspectives. Download the Anxiety Approach Plan to get a detailed description of some of the common ways to assess an anxious teen as a parent.

What Your Anxious Teen Needs

Although anxiety is difficult to change without professional help because the thought patterns are so strongly rooted, there are quite a few things for you and your teen to do that will reduce, prevent and eliminate even the most persistent and troubling symptoms with help from a specializing therapist.

Here are things for you to do in order to help as their parent:

First, encourage open and positive connections with at least a few other people in your teen’s life. An anxious teen can feel isolated even if they spend time around others. Being present emotionally and mentally when you are with your teen can help your teen feel connected and present, as well.

Help your teen connect with things that give them drive or positive structure in their lives like commitment to a class, group, hobby or other activity. Consider what can help them feel positively connected with something that gives their time and energy some purpose. Noticing what they are doing well and how their actions can have positively impact combats anxiety. Your teen’s identity will become stronger than the negative, limiting things that anxiety wants them to believe about themselves and the world.

An anxious teen’s brain is trying to predict problems and control situations. They need you to acknowledge how real the problems are to them, while also holding onto the belief that they can handle anything life throws and them. A bonus is showing them that they don’t have to do it alone and that you are there to support them.

Mistakes to Avoid When Parenting an Anxious Teen (And What to Do Instead)

1. Acknowledge your own anxiety.

When you let your own anxiety or fear guide your actions, you trigger your teen’s anxiety. Because you care, it is frightening for you to see your teenager anxious. When you react in a panicked, frustration or impatient way with your teen, this increases confusion, resentment, and feelings of powerlessness. Instead, be patient with your teen, because this will guide them to be patient with themselves.

2. Show your teen your confidence in their understanding and abilities.

Don’t fall into the common trap of telling your teenager how important a task or assignment is for them and their future. The underlying message of this lecture is that your teen is incapable or incompetent. Your teen likely has the necessary skills to understand how important a school assignment or other commitment is (hence your frustration when they act like they don’t get it).

If you speak to your teen believing that they do value work and commitments it will help them feel capable and respected. Show them that you’re willing to support them in the things that they need to do to make goals happen. Even if you are met with some resistance at first, you will be supporting your teen to act responsibly and make use of the resources around them.

3. Get to know what your teen’s goals and interests are.

Help your anxious teen prioritize what they want to do, not what they feel they have to do. This reduces the pressure of perfectionism. Anxiety will cause your teen to worry about things that don’t matter to them, making it difficult to have meaningful goals and track progress. This is discouraging for an anxious teen. Help them clarify their goals and give them permission to value their own interests first.

4. Don’t try to rescue them from situations, and don’t try to force them into situations.

Parenting an anxious teen will pull at your heartstrings because it’s painful to see anxiety making things harder on them. In order to learn to manage the anxiety, you must show them that you’ll support them but not rescue them. This means not completing an assignment for them or lying for them. You cannot fight their battles for them or resolve problems with their friends for them.

On the other hand, don’t shame them by calling out their anxiety or bully them into an uncomfortable situation. This will not teach them skills, but rather confirm their fears. Talk situations through, and encourage your teen to challenge themselves, but not to make choices that feel unsafe. A specializing therapist can help your teen determine how to approach situations and face anxiety in a responsible way.

Bottom Line

Stress is struggling periodically when handling a difficult situation, while anxiety is an ongoing battle with an over-active stress response.

Rather than avoiding or overreacting to a potentially anxiety-provoking situation, remain open to conversation and positive problem-solving with your teen. Show your teen that you take the situation seriously, but act calmly and remain open to possible solutions.

Listen to them talk out their thoughts, but don’t suggest solutions before they’re willing to think of some possibilities themselves.

Fundamental Tips to Reduce Anxiety and Prevent Depression

For more ways to apply what you can do to help your teen, listen to my detailed interview with Dr. Maggie Wray:

Listen to that in-depth interview anytime, along with interviews with the other experts.

Download this free workbook and put your knowledge into action! The Parent-Teen Guide’s Anxiety Approach Plan: 
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