By Richard Taite
My children are still quite small, but I know the day is coming fast when they will be teens. That means while raising my kids to be competent, engaged adults, I am at the same time looking out for potential problems, including anxiety.
What’s the difference between a moody teenager and a young person too anxious to leave his or her room? While wanting more independence from adults is a natural part of teenage years, when teens experience a level of anxiety that interferes with their daily functioning it is not only unhealthy, it could be a sign of the onset of an anxiety disorder.
Here are four things all parents and family members of teens should understand about anxiety disorders and why you should be on the lookout for them in your child’s behavior.
- Anxiety in adolescence is common. The onset of anxiety and other mental health disorders occurs among adolescents with surprising frequency. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates as many as one in four teens between the ages of 13 and 18 have an anxiety disorder. It’s natural to be worried about a child who displays symptoms of excessive anxiety, but understand that many families have been in your shoes and have found ways to help their children build better coping skills and ultimately thrive.
- Don’t call it a “phase.” It’s easy to dismiss excessive anxiety as simply another “phase” your teens are going through as they mature from children to young, independent adults. But trying to minimize or dismiss a health concern like an anxiety disorder won’t do anyone any favors. Take your teens, their emotions and their thoughts, seriously in order to get them the help they need to avoid the unnecessary pain caused by excessive anxiety.
- Help doesn’t have to mean medicine. If you suspect that your teen may be experiencing the onset of an anxiety disorder, don’t panic. You have many options going forward that will help you and your teen. Most importantly, if you are worried about your teen, make sure you take time to talk with him or her directly about these issues and involve your teen in the treatment process. Once everyone is on the same page, consider a whole host of treatment options including therapy, extracurricular activities, and even mindfulness practices, to help your teen better understand and overcome his or her condition.
- Treatment now means fewer problems later. One of the biggest factors contributing to anxiety disorders, especially in children, is a lack of adequate coping mechanisms to handle common stressors such as preparing for a big test, the poor health of a parent, or violence experienced nearby or witnessed on television/social media. By recognizing your teens’ anxiety and working together to take action and get them help, you and your teens are making an intentional effort to build healthy coping mechanisms that your children will continue to use throughout their lifetime.
Recognizing a mental health condition in your child can trigger your own worst fears, making you wonder if the condition is somehow your fault. But by being aware of your children’s changing behavior, listening to them, taking them seriously and getting them the help they need, you can be sure you’re doing everything you can to give them the hand up they require to deal effectively with anxiety. Recovery is common and anxiety expressed now does not mean a lifetime sentence of “disorders.” Just knowing you are there to support them will go a long way toward making your teens feel less anxious.