Teenagers are goofy, funny, and their radiant personalities are fun to watch and experience; however, they can also be temperamental, rebellious and full of anxiety. The teenage years can be difficult because these young minds are in a limbo of living under their parent’s rules while trying to find their self-identity. Teenagers are prone to peer pressure and anxiety during this critical life stage, and you as a parent can have a significant impact on how your teenager managers their anxiety. When parenting an anxious teenager, the natural tendency is to anticipate what type of situations are going to be difficult and then try to make them more comfortable. Parents want to control the outcomes for their children to keep them comfortable, safe and happy. This all comes from a place of love, but this does not allow them to grow into resilient and independent adults. The natural tendency is to try to make it better by making it go away, but it is the parents’ role to guide their teenagers and help them “figure it out” while they are still in the safe presence of the home.
What not to do when parenting an anxious child
- Do not say, “don’t worry about it because it will be fine”: By offering your teenager comfort in the moment and providing them false hope, this may temporarily take away their anxiety, but it will just come right back. As a parent, you must allow your teenager to sit with these anxious thoughts so over time they can become more comfortable with these thoughts. Telling them that everything is going to be okay breeds false hope and only covers the problem with a temporary Band-Aid. Additionally, your teenager may not be feeling like everything is okay and telling them this may only bring them more doubt and worry because you are minimizing their anxiety.
- Do not make any promises: Anxiety comes at goes in waves and can sometimes be mild and other times may be very severe. You cannot promise your teenager that their anxiety will go away or that it can be fixed. This will only give them false hope and lead them to believe that their anxiety is most likely temporary when it may be a lifelong battle.
- Do not fix their problem: You are not their therapist, and therefore it is not your role to psychoanalyze your teenager or give them solutions to fix their anxiety. Your teen must go through the process and learn to overcome their battles without having you come in and rescue them from every anxiety-provoking situation. If you try to fix every problem in the end, your teen does not walk away from the situation having learned any problem-solving skills.
- Do not choreograph, coordinate or control: Coordinating friendships and social gatherings are very normal for parents of younger kids. As a parent you do not want your teenager to feel left out from their peers however coordinating and controlling their social life and “playing magician” behind the scenes will only make things worse for your teen as they become older. Allow your teen to find their social circles and form friends naturally within their peer group.
- Do not respond with high emotion: Becoming extremely worried, angry or stressed only causes more anxiety in your teenager. Switching from one emotion to the next can be overwhelming for your anxious teenager and can send them a mixed message. Try to remain neutral with a cool, calm and collected approach.
What to do when parenting an anxious child
- Ask questions: Ask a question about what your teenager is feeling and if they have ever felt this way before. Inquire about if they have any solutions that may control their anxiety or if there is anything that you can do to help them. The goal of asking questions is for your teenager to try to understand where their anxiety is stemming from.
- Validate phrases such as “I am sorry you are feeling this way,” “ That sound like you are having a rough day” or “ I like the way you handled that situation” allows your teenager to feel that their feelings and emotions are real without offering them false hope or sugar-coated compliments.
- Be there when they ask for help: If your teenager does come to you for help, take that as a massive compliment as they are trusting you with their emotions and fears. Make sure to put away your current distractions and actively listen to them and always remember to tell them how much you love and care for them.