Anxiety has been steadily increasing in young adults over the past decade; the NIH reports that one in three people experience an anxiety disorder by the time they turn 18. Certain behaviors in teenagers or children may be easily overlooked, chalked up to growing pains, or written off as ‘teens being teens’. In truth, the way a teenager acts in important environments, especially in the classroom, deserves a precise type of attention. Anything from changes at home, problems with academics, or even problems in their social life can lead to lasting emotional struggles in children and teenagers. Even things like neglected hygiene, low self-esteem, or poor self-care routines can be a sign that something is going on internally. Undiagnosed anxiety is increasingly common in teens, which can have serious ramifications in their home life and on their performance in school.
The Many Roots of Anxiety
Teaching or parenting a teen who suffers from anxiety can be an unpredictable process. Some days you may not know which version of them you’re going to interact with. There may be days when they seem to hate the things you thought they’ve always loved. The truth is that your teen’s anxiety may manifest as mood swings, seeming withdrawn, or sudden, inexplicable behavior. Anxiety can appear in many ways because it can have roots in many factors.
One of the main causes of anxiety is the expectation of success. School comes with lots of different tests that essentially measure success and aptitude, and the pressures and prospects of failure can be overwhelming for children. Between standardized tests and school shootings, a school can be a scary place for teens. Even years before a person begins to deal with puberty or social media, they may develop intense internal reactions to what you might have thought were normal experiences. Attending a party, summer camp, or even going to school can negatively affect a teen who has anxiety about daily activities.
Living in 2021, social media plays a major role in the life of the average teenager. Teens are deeply connected to apps like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. These apps can have a huge effect on your child’s self-esteem and how they perceive the world. Social media also encourages stark comparison to other, more successful people, many of whom are the same age as your teen. Even supposedly mature adults can fall victim to the desire to “keep up with the Joneses”; for teens, the competition can be even more fierce.
What Can I Do to Help?
The first step towards helping your teenager is to try to be aware of the signs that they may be struggling with anxiety. These signs may not be clear to you at first. In many cases, your teenager may not even realize that they are dealing with anxiety in the first place. A teenager who suffers from anxiety may have fears and worries about the regular facets of their everyday routines. You may notice higher levels of irritability or sullenness in certain circumstances or in general. You may also see a drop in grades, trouble sleeping, weight loss, or sudden, risky behaviors. If you want to be able to reach your teen, try to talk to them in a compassionate, non-judgmental way about what they’re going through. Try to see and understand things from their eyes so that you can help them put things into perspective and find ways to cope.
While trying to help them, it’s important to understand the pressure of the expectations you may have placed on them. Try to focus on setting realistic goals for them. It’s important to realize that kids also need time to relax and enjoy spending time with their friends. This time to decompress is critical for both adults and children, no matter what kind of workload they have.
Treating Anxiety in Your Teen
If the symptoms have reached a point where you feel like you and your teenager could benefit from some extra help, it may be time to get a screening from a pediatrician. To start, the pediatricians will ask about your child’s physical problems, changes in mood, behavior, and recent activities. They will want to know what’s going on at school and home. You should be prepared to be open and honest to get accurate results. You and your teen must understand that anxiety is treatable and that you can and will find ways to cope.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) are two effective, safe options for treatment. CBT can change how your teen experiences the things which currently provoke negative emotional reactions. This treatment method carefully increases their exposure to their fears, accompanied by strategies on how to handle them. Positive reinforcement, deep breathing, and muscle relaxation are a few tactics used in this form of therapy. The SSRI approach is the path of medication. Your doctor can prescribe antidepressants to treat the anxiety in your teen. Ultimately, it’s up to you and your teen to figure out which method works best for your current situation.
Anxiety in children or teenagers can easily be mistaken for other problems. This is why it’s important to pay attention to the signs and foster frequent, open communication with your child. Anxiety in teens can be tricky to identify and diagnose; some people erroneously choose to write it off or disregard it as unimportant. This is a difficult time to be a teenager. Between social media and school shootings, there’s a lot to be stressed about. Creating an open line of communication at home can help you better understand what your child is going through. No matter what age someone is, having a strong support system is a vital foundation for battling anxiety and fear. If your child is struggling with anxiety, depression, or just needs a place to openly communicate with peers, reach out to HealthyU. We provide an encouraging, educational environment where teens can learn how to develop healthy emotional habits and take proactive steps towards improving their stability. Contact us at (619)542-9542 to learn more.