We have fostered anxiety in our teens rather than helped them to build resilience.
Many teens struggle with anxiety and it is a very common reason why parents and their teens come to my therapy office. Some teenagers are crippled by overachievement and expect to be perfectionists in every area. Other teens excessively worry about what their peers think of them which does not allow them to function. Every teen grows up in a unique environment which could be contributing to their anxiety.
There has been an increase in anxiety which could be from a shift in cultural and societal norms over the last decade or so. My work with teenagers has allowed me to compile a list of the top ten causes for teen anxiety which inspires you to seek additional support from a therapist for your teen
1. Electronics offer an unhealthy escape.
Kids today are able to escape uncomfortable emotions like boredom, loneliness, or sadness by immersing themselves in their digital devices. Avoiding conversation while in the car, procrastinating on homework, escaping being with family are all possible when they can play an online game or be on social media. Your teen’s exposure to electronics has impacted their ability to develop mental strength and gain coping skills to handle everyday challenges.
2. Happiness is all the rage.
In today’s culture, we strive for happiness and some parents feel that they have to do whatever they can to ensure that their kids are happy all the time. If your child is sad or angry, then you come to their rescue by cheering them up or calming them down. This leads to kids feeling like unless they are happy twenty-four hours a day, then something is wrong with them. Having a range of emotions throughout a day is normal and healthy. Recognizing and identifying healthy ways to have these emotions is what we should strive for.
3. Parents are giving unrealistic praise.
We live in a society now where many kids get trophies for just showing up. Kids are given praise which can fall on deaf ears because it perpetuates a fixed growth pattern. For example, telling your child that “you are the fastest player on the team” or “you are the smartest person in your grade” seems to set up pressure on your child. If your child doesn’t live up to the labels you have given them, they might fear failure or rejection by you. Instead, praising your child’s efforts and hard work will allow them the space to grow beyond their potential.
4. Parents get caught up in the rat race.
When our children are young, we compare our children to other children based on when they walk, talk, eat solids, and read on their own. As our children become teens, parents switch to a role of personal assistant making sure their children can compete across the board to develop the best transcript and resume to impress a top school. The message sent to your teen is that they must excel at everything to land a spot in college.
5. Kids aren’t learning emotional skills.
We spend a lot of time emphasizing academic preparation, but put little effort into teaching kids the emotional skills they need to succeed. Many first year college students feel emotionally unprepared for college life. Developing healthy coping skills allows teens to be prepared for their future. Without knowing how to manage your time, combating stress, and taking care of your feelings, your teen could lead to overwhelming anxiety.
6. Parents view themselves as protectors rather than guides.
At some point, many parents started thinking of themselves as the fixer and see their main mission to ensure that their kids grow up without any emotional and physical scars. We have become so overprotective that our teens haven’t practiced handling their own challenges. As a result, kids have grown up believing they are too fragile to cope with life.
7. Adults don’t know to help kids face their fears the right way.
Parents handle their children’s fears in different ways including pushing their kids too hard and forcing their children to do things that terrify them or not pushing our kids at all and letting them opt out of anything that makes them feel anxious. It is known that exposure is the best way to conquer fear but only when it is done incrementally. Parents should help kids to practice, gently nudge, and guide them to gain confidence when they face their fears head on.
8. Parents are parenting out of guilt and fear.
Parenting is a challenging job and it stirs up uncomfortable emotions in all of us. But instead of feeling and recognizing these emotions, many parents change how they parent their children to avoid these feelings. This can be seen when parents do not let their children out of their sight because of the parent’s anxiety or they cannot tolerate their children being upset or angry so they do not say no to their children and give in. The lesson learned by children with either extreme is that children learn that uncomfortable emotions are intolerable.
9. Kids aren’t given enough free time.
Many children play organized sports or participate in extracurricular activities which allow the children to learn rules and getting along with others. Unstructured play allows kids to obtain essential skills like how to manage conflicts without an adult getting involved. Solitary play teaches kids how to be alone with their thoughts and comfortable in their own skin.
10. Family hierarchies are out of whack.
Many families give their kids the impression that they are in charge. While teenagers do suggest with their actions and words that they would like to be in charge, deep down they are learning how to make good decisions and require parents to be the leaders and guides for success. Anxiety increases when kids feel like they have too much control in the family.
Our current culture has encouraged anxiety in teens instead of helped them to learn important emotional and mental skills to be successful. If we support and guide our children to learn more coping skills, then our teens will be more successful in their own path.