Help for anxious teenagers
Anxious teenagers exist everywhere and this phenomenon is growing. I am seeing a huge volume of anxious teenage clients and it has shown me just how much teenagers have to cope with these days. Peer pressure is high as well as the pressure to achieve and be successful. Competition is rife for places in well established Universities and being a teenager is full of angst and self doubt.
This constant ongoing pressure is resulting in varying consequences – teenagers who are angry and out of control or the other extreme – anxious teenagers who are withdrawing and who seem afraid of life.
My own son, who has just turned seventeen seems to fit loosely into the second category. He has seen me struggle as a single mother with very little support (financially or emotionally) from his father and this has framed his reference of the world. At times, I am sure he sees the world as a hard place with little compassion. He worries that if he is barely coping at college, how will he ever cope as an adult, having to pay bills and stand on his own two feet?
He has an awful role model as a father and unfortunately has not had the stability of a two-parent family. Despite this, there are many protective factors (factors that counteract harsh circumstances) that exist.
Here are a few tips to help you deal effectively with an anxious teenager:
- Maintain open and honest communication at all times.
- Be loving and supportive – offer a consistent base for teenagers to explore the world around them.
- Be open minded and non judgemental when it comes to your teenager’s attitudes and transient behavioural patterns – they are growing and changing rapidly. Behaviour they exhibit today may no longer exist in a few month’s time – see the bigger picture.
- Don’t put unrealistic expectations on your teenager. You may have preconceived ideas of how you wanted your children to turn out and they may not be living up to that idea – remember though, this is your issue – not theirs. The more you push them to be a version of what you want, the more you damage their sense of self esteem.
- Help them to challenge their negative ideas about the world. Teenagers spend a lot of time thinking about what others think of them and wondering about how they are being perceived. Remind them that they don’t truly know what others think and that thoughts and facts are not the same thing. Get them to look for evidence of their thinking. More often than not they will see that their thinking isn’t accurate and that people don’t think about them the way they imagine.
- Be aware of the ‘lessons’ you are teaching your teenager. Are you giving them the idea that life is hard, harsh and difficult? Of course – that is a part of life but be sure to teach them about the good stuff too. Nurture their sense of hope and optimism about their abilities and the future.
- Teach teenagers to be true to themselves and to reject the idea of peer pressure and fitting in. Peer pressure is especially hard for teenagers to resist but let them know they do have a choice and that they need to develop their own voice as they move into adulthood. Life often seems more critical and intense as a teenager. Take this into account.
- Pick your battles. Some parents tend to get into nonsensical battles with their teens over the time they spend on their phones, computers and social media or they struggle with getting their teenager to clean their rooms. Stop and ask yourself which of these battles are really that serious. Will some of these battles naturally sort themselves out over time? Learn to let go of some issues in order to promote more peace and a happier relationship at home. I have stopped arguing with my son over keeping his room tidy and I have let him decide for himself as to how much time he wants to spend on his computer. We have certain limits, especially on college nights but in general, he is learning to self-regulate. Self regulation is a vital skill that many teenagers do not get an opportunity to learn as they have overbearing parents who put all the limits in place for them. The more you do for them in this way, the less power you give them. You teach them that you do not have faith in their abilities to make decisions for themselves. Learn to let go a little.
Be kind and compassionate with your teenager and remember that you were a teenager once too. Be patient and consistently supportive and you will ride through the anxious teenager phase…I am riding along in there with you…at least for another two years!