Your happy-go-lucky child has turned into an anxiety-ridden teen. It is a painful thing to watch. Activities that were once enjoyable are now avoided. Going to school is a daily miracle. Instead of driving to the mall, you are driving to the doctor with mysterious stomach issues.
Teen anxiety is not only debilitating for your teen, it is debilitating for the whole family.
So how do you make this nightmare go away? How do parents help with teen anxiety?
You can start off learning what not to do – and then go from there. Teen anxiety can look very similar among teens, but how parents deal with teen anxiety can look vastly different depending on the family’s parenting style.
Here are 5 common mistakes I see good parents making in my therapy practice:
Accommodating their teen’s anxiety.
Parents feel bad. They don’t want their kids to have teen anxiety. They want to make it all go away. And so they do just that.
Their kids don’t want to go to school. They switch them to online schooling.
Their kids don’t want to sleep alone. They give them a permanent spot in their bed.
Their kids are afraid to do new things. They never push them out of their comfort zone.
Helping kids with teen anxiety is a balancing act. You don’t want to push your teens too hard, but you don’t want to not encourage them at all.
Help your teen develop coping mechanisms and then encourage them to slowly fight back!
Forcing Teens to Face Their Fears Too Soon
The flip side of the issue above – are parents who are too overzealous when addressing teen anxiety. They hate to see their teens suffer, so they force them to face their fears.
The intention is good, but the delivery is bad.
These parents do not understand anxiety. They believe they can strong arm their teens to face their fears and that will “get them over it.”
Unfortunately teen anxiety doesn’t work that way. Forcing teens to do things that they are not ready to do can backfire. Like I said before, handling teen anxiety is a balancing act.
Accommodating their fears is not helpful, but too much pushing can have a similar effect. They can both stop any progress from occurring.
Give your teen coping mechanisms and then let them face small challenges. Small challenges add up to big results.
Putting too much pressure on fixing anxiety.
Some parents get anxiety. They get it so much that they are ready to beat teen anxiety for their kids. They are the ones reading the books. They are the ones participating in therapy. They are the ones hand holding their kids through the battle of teen anxiety.
I get it. It is frustrating to see your teen move at a slower pace than you would like. It is frustrating to understand the skills that they need to use, only to watch them not use them.
Unfortunately this is a battle you cannot fight for them. When you fight teen anxiety harder than your teens you do two things. You make them hide their anxiety – which is the opposite of what you want to do. And second, you make them feel overwhelmed. When this happens, many teens just give up.
This is your teen’s battle, not yours. Be a supportive passenger. You are not the driver.
Believing their teen is manipulating them.
I meet many parents who completely believe their teens are using anxiety as an excuse. I hear things like, “He is just lazy and doesn’t want to go to school” and “She is not scared at night, she just likes sleeping with us.”
Most teens are embarrassed to have teen anxiety and would do anything to NOT have this problem.
When you view your teen’s anxiety as manipulation you are going to parent it with discipline and annoyance – both of which will exacerbate the issue.
Having misperceptions of anxiety.
I often hear parents say things like, “I don’t understand why she is afraid of that – nothing bad has ever happened to her?” Parents rack their brains with questions like “Is he being bullied?” And “Did she go through a trauma we don’t know about?” Usually, the answer is – no.
Anxiety has a strong genetic component and runs in families. Children are born with the predisposition to be anxious. That doesn’t mean they cannot learn skills to beat their anxiety, it just means you should stop trying to answer the question “But why?”
Teen anxiety is often irrational and is not usually based on actual experiences.
So now that you know what not to do – what should you do? Arm your teen with coping mechanisms. Take them to a therapist that can help them build these skills. Have them read a teen self-help book that will teach them skills or watch a parenting video to learn how to teach those skills yourself. Whatever you do, give your teen support.
Help your teen with these three steps:
(This post first appeared on AnxiousToddlers.com and has been reprinted here with full permission.)
About the Author: Natasha Daniels
Natasha Daniels is a child therapist and author of Anxiety Sucks! A Teen Survival Guide and How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler. She is the creator of AnxiousToddlers.com and has a Psychcentral blog Parenting Anxious Kids. Her work has been featured on various sites including Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and The Mighty. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest or making parenting videos for Curious.com.