Common Pitfalls Parents Face When Dealing with Anxiety in Teens
Parenting teens with anxiety is tough, no doubt! It hurts to see your child so worried and stressed.
Headaches, stomach issues, social isolation, difficulty making decisions, perfectionism, procrastination, and anger are all signs of teen anxiety that regularly surface.
Let’s face it, the world is a tough place to grow up in right now. It’s ripe with all kinds of anxiety-producing stress. Whether it’s Covid-19, loss of connection, racial injustice, sexual identity issues, school violence, or social media pressures, it can all feel overwhelming. Understandably, you want nothing more than to step in and make it all better.
Common Mistakes Good Parents Make with Teens Dealing with Anxiety
As a parent, you have likely tried many things to help your teen – some helpful and others not so much. You might suffer from anxiety yourself and wonder whether anxiety is something your child has “learned” from you.
Let me assure you that your teen’s anxiety is not your fault. Anxiety is a complex issue with many sources and triggers. That said, there may be things good parents do unintentionally to make it worse.
Here are some of the more common pitfalls parents face when trying to help their teen with anxiety.
Pitfall #1: Digging for the root cause of anxiety in teens
Humans are wired to make sense of things. We search for the root cause of problems and then try to fix them. So when your teen is battling anxiety, you assume there must be a good reason for it. But that’s not always the case. Anxiety is often irrational and not even based on actual experience.
Sometimes parents will wonder if there is some underlying trauma they didn’t know about or if their child is being bullied at school. Most of the time, the answer is no. Some teens are simply genetically predisposed to anxiety. And when too much stress bubbles up, anxiety symptoms develop.
Trying hard to come up with the “why” behind your teen’s anxiety can actually be detrimental. Even if your child is able to identify the cause, they may still feel helpless to do anything about it. Focusing too much on the source may leave them feeling unsupported and defensive.
What you can do to help anxiety in teens instead:
Ask questions from a place of genuine interest and concern. Here are some examples:
- Can you describe for me exactly what you’re feeling in your body when you get anxious?
- Have you ever felt this way before and if so, when?
- What solutions can you think of that might control your anxiety?
- Is there anything I can do to help you?
Even something as difficult as anxiety can be an opportunity to train your teen in resilience. As every adult knows, life is challenging and it doesn’t get any easier with age. We all get anxious from time to time and often we don’t even know the real reason behind it. Communicate to your teen in both words and action that moving forward is the best strategy.
Pitfall #2: Trying to “fix” your teen’s anxiety
You love your teen. And you would do anything for them and that’s a beautiful thing. However, when it comes to anxiety in teens, you cannot conquer it for them. They have to do it. Your teen has to be willing to go to anxiety counseling, read the books, or join the online therapy support group.
I understand that it’s discouraging to see your teen moving at a slower pace than you had hoped. Or not using the helpful strategies they learned in counseling two days ago.
But you cannot fight their battle for them. When you battle their anxiety harder than your teen, two things happen: 1) They will hide their anxiety for fear of disappointing you – which is the opposite of what you want, and 2) They will feel overwhelmed which makes them want to give up.
Think of it another way. You’re actually cheating your teen if you try to fix their anxiety. If you tell them what to do or how to do it, or even go as far as doing it for them, your teen walks away from an anxiety-producing scenario without having learned any problem-solving skills.
Sure, you may think that by watching you handle things that your teen is internalizing the process and will therefore know what to do in the future. But in reality, until your teen has worked through a problem directly, they won’t gain the experience or build the confidence needed to handle future anxiety-inducing situations.
What you can do instead to help your teen’s anxiety symptoms:
Above all, remember that teen anxiety is a battle your teen must fight, not you. Can you be a supporter and encourager? Absolutely! You just can’t be the driver. What do support and encouragement look like exactly?
Keeping your own anxiety in check so that you don’t communicate that their anxiety is feeding your anxiety. No child regardless of age wants to feel responsible for their parent’s emotional wellbeing. Keep your anxiety in check while you empathize with theirs.
Ask questions that encourage your teen to problem-solve and find resources that will help them work through a tough situation.
Here are some example questions to ask your teen with anxiety:
- What do you think you want to do?
- Have you been in a situation like this before? What did you do?
- What can I help you with?
- How might this person respond?
- Is there something else you can do?
- What are your options in this situation?
All these questions clearly communicate that you are NOT going to ride in as the hero and save the day. You are holding your teen responsible for the problem-solving or brainstorming because you believe in them while still remaining present and supportive.
It’s so much easier to just tell our kids what to do and how to handle a problem. But unless your teen goes through the actual experience, they won’t develop the skill or confidence they desperately need in adulthood. It’s like a muscle, you need to give it resistance in order to build its strength.
Pitfall #3: Making life too easy for your teen
You feel bad for your teen with anxiety. In fact, you wish the anxiety symptoms would just go away. And so, you start working to make life a bit easier for them. Does this sound familiar?
- Your teen not prepared for the math test 1st period? No problem. You’ll sign them in late so they can take it tomorrow instead.
- Or your child missed a deadline for turning in a school form? Not an issue. You know who to call and can get it straightened out in a jiffy.
- Is your teen having friendship drama? It’s OK. You know the friend’s mom personally and can get to the bottom of it.
I get it. As parents, our desire is to anticipate what kinds of situations are going to be anxiety-producing and attempt to make them easier for our teens. We want to control the outcomes to keep our children comfortable and happy.
Of course, it’s all done from a place of love, but is your teen really acquiring the grit they need to grow into a resilient adult? By giving them comfort at the moment, you’re providing short-term relief, but what about the long-term consequences? Unfortunately, it communicates that you don’t have faith in them to fix their own problems. It also produces young men and women who can’t sit in their own discomfort.
What you can do instead to help teen anxiety:
Helping your teen with anxiety is a balancing act. You don’t want to push your teen too hard, but you also need to push them out of their comfort zone.
The best thing you can do is to help your teen develop coping mechanisms and then encourage them to slowly fight back against anxiety.
Think of yourself as a coach. Your job right now is to help your teen to “figure it out” while they’re still in your home.
Here are some “coaching” suggestions to help your anxious teen:
Validate your teen with statements such as:
- I’m sorry. It sounds like it was a rough day.
- That must have been tough to handle.
Tell them how you feel about their efforts and be specific
- It sounds like you handled that situation really well.
- I like the way you chose to handle that situation.
Be available when they ask for help. Put away any distractions and actively listen to them. Your priority is to help them find a solution they can implement without your help – every time.
Always remember to tell them how much you love and care for them.
Pitfall #4: Using “tough love”
There are times in parenting when we lose patience. We’ve all been there.
Your teen needs to take a final exam, give a speech in class, or have that difficult conversation with their boss. They want to do that hard thing and then panic pops up only to derail their best-laid plans.
At that moment, you tell them some variation of “Get a grip!”
You hate seeing your teen debilitated by anxiety, so you force them to face their fears in hopes that they’ll “get over them”.
While your intentions may be good, your delivery is bad.
Forcing your teen with anxiety to do things they’re not ready to do can backfire. Pushing too hard can stop any progress from occurring.
Your teen does not choose to have anxiety symptoms. If they could easily overcome fear by “just doing it”, they would. Using tough love only makes them feel defensive and unsupported.
What you can do to help your teen with anxiety instead:
Instead of telling your teen to “buck up,” practice empathy and encouragement. You can say:
- That’s a really tough way to feel.
- I’m sorry you feel that way.
Both these responses communicate understanding which helps your teen to calm down. Your teen stops being defensive and no longer feels the need to convince you their anxiety is real.
Let them know how much you love and value them with these statements:
- You are important to me.
- I care about you.
- You are loved.
- I love you.
- You are enough.
- I care about your safety.
- You are creative.
Pitfall #5: Believing your teen is manipulating you
Please do not fall prey to the thinking that says your teen is only using their anxiety symptoms as an excuse. Your son is not using his anxiety to get out of school nor is your daughter using it to manipulate you into getting what she wants.
In reality, most teens are embarrassed by their anxiety and would do anything to NOT have this problem. Many young people report feeling trapped inside a world they can’t control.
When you regard your teen’s anxiety as manipulation, you’re going to parent it with discipline and annoyance – both of which will only make anxiety worse.
Your teen might not have the coping skills needed to manage their anxiety, but they do know full well what freaks them out. They have readily learned to spot the triggers that might send them into a full-blown panic attack. And so naturally, they do their best to avoid these stressful situations as much as possible.
What you can do to help your teen with anxiety instead:
Again, remain as supportive and encouraging as possible. Make sure they understand that you’re on their side.
Remind your teen of previous situations when they were able to manage similar panic-producing moments.
- Where did that (strength, tenacity, faith, assertiveness, etc.) come from?
- What did you draw upon?
- What inside of you allowed you to do that?
- How were you able to accomplish it?
Simple questions like these communicate that while their anxiety is real, there have also been times in the past when they’ve been able to push beyond these fearful feelings.
Remember that it’s important to give yourself lots of grace in this parenting journey. You’re doing the best you can even if you make mistakes now and then. No one ever said raising teens with anxiety would be easy and the stakes go up when anxiety symptoms enter the picture. Remain supportive, empathetic, and calm and you will make it to the other side.
Begin Anxiety Counseling for Teens with Anxiety in Chicago, or anywhere in the State of Illinois!
If your teen with anxiety could use some help with reducing their anxiety symptoms as well as rebuilding their confidence and coping skills, I’d love to help. At Briefly Counseling in Illinois, you will work with me, an experienced and caring anxiety therapist, who loves providing online anxiety treatment. To start your teen’s anxiety counseling journey, follow these simple steps:
- Click on the Schedule an Appointment button
- Get to know your caring teen anxiety therapist.
- Select a day and time in my online calendar
- Watch your teen gain confidence and become happier
Other Counseling Services at Briefly Counseling
At Briefly Counseling I offer many services at my online Chicago and Illinois, counseling practice. Other mental health services provided by Briefly Counseling include online anxiety counseling for kids, online Christian counseling, and online anxiety counseling for teens. I provide all services via online therapy in Illinois. So whether you’re in Naperville, Chicago, Champaign, Rockford, Libertyville, or Crystal Lake, I can help you. Schedule your appointment or consultation today. I look forward to working with your child to quickly and effectively help them in activating their strengths, resources, and resilience, in order to live with confidence and hope.