Practical Support for Parents of Anxious Teens

Provide practical support for anxious teens

Everyone is talking about anxious teens. 

Anxiety in children and teens is the topic of podcasts, books, radio segments, literature reviews, LinkedIn posts… it’s everywhere. And for good reason, too. Anxiety in youth is a mounting concern that impacts every community and nearly all families. For parents who are watching their teens struggle now, this can feel overwhelming… especially when they’re unsure of the best ways to help. Professionals who work with at-risk youth play a crucial role in bridging this gap. The guidance and support offered is invaluable. 

In this blog, we cover – 

  • Effective ways to communicate that foster understanding and trust
  • Signs of anxiety that are crucial for early intervention
  • Strategies for creating a supportive environment that addresses teen anxiety

Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to support parents as they navigate the complexities of their teen’s anxiety, ensuring they feel less alone in their journey.

Understanding Teen Anxiety

Anxiety isn’t a passing social media frenzy. It is a significant and complex issue that affects many teenagers today, especially those considered at-risk. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly a third of adolescents have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, with symptoms typically appearing during the teen years. Anxiety disorders in adolescents manifest in various forms, from generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety to panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Parents and professionals must be able to distinguish between everyday stresses and anxiety that might require intervention. 

For example, feeling worried before midterm exams is normal. Losing a bit of sleep for a week or so after a breakup happens is normal. Feeling anxious before the state championship game is normal. Excessive, constant checking of one’s phone throughout the day and becoming physically ill most days when doing homework is not normal. 

For teens, the stakes of untreated anxiety are high—poor academic performance, decreasing social interaction, and severe impacts on physical health are just the tip of the iceberg. But by recognizing and addressing these issues early, parents can significantly mitigate long-term consequences. Understanding the breadth and depth of teen anxiety is the first step in empowering parents to act effectively, ensuring they have the knowledge to seek help when it’s most needed.

Communication Strategies for Parents

Opening up a dialogue about mental health can be daunting for parents, especially if they’re unsure how to approach the subject without feeling like they are making it worse. The key is to create an environment of openness and trust, where teens feel safe to express their feelings and struggles. Here are a few tips to help parents initiate and maintain meaningful conversations with their teens:

  1. Choose the Right Moment: Encourage parents to look for moments when their teen seems more receptive or during quiet times when distractions are minimal, such as during a car ride or at dinner. (You might be surprised by how much easier it can be to talk while driving, when eye contact isn’t expected!)
  2. Use Open-ended Questions: Instead of yes-or-no questions, parents should ask open-ended questions that encourage deeper discussion. For example, “Tell me more about how things are going with your friends?” instead of “Did you have a good day at school?”
  3. Practice Active Listening: Parents: listen more than you speak. Active listening involves acknowledging your teen’s feelings, summarizing their words, and asking follow-up questions to show genuine interest and understanding. You have to really embrace the spirit of curiosity and care to engage in an honest, open conversation. 
  4. Avoid Judgment: Teens will shut down if they feel criticized or judged. Parents should aim to be non-judgmental and empathetic, expressing support and acceptance regardless of what their teen shares.

By enhancing their communication skills, parents can create a supportive dialogue that makes teens feel valued and understood, which is crucial in managing anxiety. To learn more about how to support parents in building their communication skills, visit our resources page: https://possibilitiesforchange.org/parent-support/ 

Recognizing Signs of Anxiety in Teens

Did you know that anxiety can and does manifest differently in teenagers compared to adults? There are overlapping symptoms, but there are also subtler signs that may indicate a deeper issue. Here are some key symptoms parents should watch for to ensure anxiety doesn’t go unnoticed: 

  1. Worrying a lot: If a teen seems overly concerned about everyday activities or events, like what to wear to school or how many views their most recent TikTok post got, pay attention. When excessive worry applies to events that typically do not warrant such a high level of anxiety, it could be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder. 
  1. Avoidance Behavior: Teens might start avoiding activities they once enjoyed or situations where they feel evaluated, such as social gatherings or academic presentations. Take notice if your teen asks to stay home sick on test days, presentation days, etc. 
  1. Physical Symptoms: Anxiety isn’t just psychological; it can also present physically. Look for signs like frequent headaches, muscle tension, stomachaches, or unexplained aches and pains.
  1. Sleep Disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing nightmares frequently are common in teens struggling with anxiety.
  1. Changes in Eating Habits: Significant changes in appetite or eating patterns can also be a red flag.

Recognizing these signs early is crucial for effective intervention. Parents who notice these symptoms should consider seeking professional help, such as a counselor or therapist, to better support their teen. Moreover, linking parents to reliable resources, like the in-depth guide about managing anxiety, can provide them with additional useful insights and strategies.

Support Techniques for Parents

Creating a supportive home environment is essential for helping teens manage anxiety. Here are some effective strategies parents can implement:

  1. Establish a Routine: Consistency can provide a sense of security. Parents should help their teens establish a regular daily schedule, particularly for meal times, homework, and sleep. Yes, even your older teens need and appreciate appropriate boundaries and routines. Consistency helps all of us!
  2. Encourage Physical Activity: Exercise is a powerful anxiety reliever. Encouraging teens to engage in physical activities they enjoy, like sports, dancing, or just regular walks, can significantly help reduce their stress levels. Even better – get outside and get moving together as a family. 
  3. Promote Healthy Sleep Habits: Sleep has a profound impact on mental health. Ensuring that teens have a quiet, comfortable sleeping environment and a consistent bedtime can help alleviate anxiety symptoms. If at all possible for your family, instill a “no screens in bedrooms” policy, or keep smartphones out of the bedrooms for your teens. 
  4. Nutritional Support: Eating a balanced diet is crucial for mental health. Parents should work together with their teens to develop meals that feel good and taste good. Take care to plan for nutritious meals that are lower in sugar and reduce caffeine intake, which can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
  5. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Teaching youth techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and/or prayer, or yoga can be effective in managing anxiety. Parents can learn these techniques together with their teens, providing an opportunity for bonding and support.

Professionals can guide parents in these areas by providing resources, workshops, or even direct training on how to integrate these practices into their daily lives effectively. Sharing additional resources, such as articles from trusted websites, can also enrich parents’ understanding and toolkit. 

Conclusion

Addressing teen anxiety is a critical challenge that requires active participation from both parents and professionals. Professionals working with at-risk youth can further support parents by offering resources, guidance, and training. Continuing education, such as workshops or seminars, can equip parents with the necessary tools to help their teens navigate anxiety. As a next step, professionals might consider organizing a workshop that focuses on these strategies, providing a hands-on approach to tackling teen anxiety.

At Possibilities for Change, we are committed to equipping parents and professionals to identify and reduce youth risks, including anxiety. Click here to learn more: https://possibilitiesforchange.org/