It’s easy to look back on your teenage years with nostalgia. You were just beginning to grasp who you could become, you had relatively few responsibilities, and most of your experiences then were new and exciting. The music was better; your eyes were brighter.
It’s fun to look through old photo albums, but if you were suddenly given the chance to go back and relive the memories captured in each picture, you’d probably hesitate. Being a teenager wasn’t always fun or easy. Sometimes, life in your teens was downright stressful.
If you could go back to that time, it would probably make the challenge of understanding the trials your teenagers are facing now a lot simpler. What’s going through your silent teenagers’ minds? Why do their relatively new friendships matter so much to them? Is everything okay?
Uncertainty is a hallmark of this time in their lives, and it’s often accompanied by fear. Because your teens are largely learning how to manage their fear through trial-and-error, situational anxiety in teens is normal.
But how much anxiety in teens is too much? When is your teenagers’ anxiety a side-effect of their personal growth, and when is it an obstacle to it?
When anxiety becomes a struggle
Healthy anxiety in teens can help them study well for a big exam or nudge them to get out of an uncomfortable situation.
If your teenagers are experiencing hurtful anxiety, they might begin to completely avoid social situations or fail assignments and tests within their abilities.
Teens are notoriously tight-lipped. What signs should you be looking for if you think your kids might be struggling alone with a serious anxiety burden?
- Teenagers are often apprehensive of first dates or meeting new people, but anxiety becomes a problem when they’re afraid without apparent reason.
- They regularly worry about everyday events or activities. Just thinking about a particular event causes significant distress. The social world at school might seem quite high-stakes to most teenagers, but if your teenagers can’t seem to let go of a remark they made or a comment from a friend, their anxiety could be hurting them.
- They quadruple-check chores and assignments, dreading the possibility of making a mistake. Maybe they seem disproportionately upset when they receive a bad grade and, despite your best efforts to reassure them, they can’t move on.
- Not understanding their own anxiety, teenagers with an anxiety disorder can feel very alone and worry that everyone notices how uncomfortable they feel. They have a hard time talking to peers or teachers.
- Motivated by fear, they feel they need to follow rules and get adult approval. They have a hard time relaxing even when they’re on top of all their assignments and responsibilities.
- Stomach aches, headaches, and other physical ailments crop up without apparent cause.
- They are overly-critical of themselves. Anxiety in teens often appears as low self-esteem, causing social avoidance or serious procrastination.
- They are irritable and seem tense all the time. High anxiety often causes irregular breathing patterns and muscle tension—exhausting for the anxiety’s host.
- Teenagers typically aren’t the best long-term thinkers; drugs and alcohol can seem like a quick solution to painful anxiety they don’t know how to deal with.
Anxiety in teens is more commonly diagnosed for girls, but teenage boys can also experience debilitating anxiety. If your teenagers experience depression, ADHD, or eating disorders, looking out for signs of anxiety can be especially important.
It isn’t just that teenagers don’t want to talk; sometimes they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, or they simply don’t have the expressive ability to help you meaningfully understand their points of view. For this reason, offering your teenagers acceptance is a great way to keep the door open when they’re ready to ask for help.