We all experience anxiety and stress from time to time. Teens are not exempt from this! With various and increasing academic demands, extracurricular activities, social engagements, etc., teens may experience stress. While anxiety in your teen from time to time is normal. Persistent and longstanding worry may be an indication of generalized anxiety.
Common signs of anxiety include:
- Excessive worry most days out of the week about multiple topics; such as school, performance, social relationships/interactions, being “perfect”, family, health of themselves, health of others, things going on in the world
- Difficulty controlling or stopping the worry
- Physical symptoms which may include: Fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty falling or staying asleep, restless sleep or not feeling well rested after sleep
- Impairment in one or more areas such as school, home or social functioning
Consequently, the bottom line is that the symptoms listed above encapsulate a persistent anxiety that is difficult for your teen to “turn off.” Furthermore, parents can feel out of the loop when it comes to their teen’s chronic worry, both in understanding it and knowing how to respond to it. Below are a few helpful tips in communicating with them in a way that brings you closer, rather than farther away.
1.Be an Active Listener
Basic, reflective listening strategies can be most effective in helping your teen open up about their worries. Asking your teen open ended questions will help get the conversation started. The old faithful question (which may often get blown off), “How was school today?” try expanding this to “You’ve been balancing (sports/extracurriculars, etc) outside of school this year, how are things going for you?” Fully listening to your teen’s response with verbal and non-verbal responses show your teen that you are taking them seriously. This might include eye contact, acting interested, nodding, and summarizing their experience back to them. This can send the message that you really hear what they are saying, and that what they’re saying is important.
2. Validate Their Experience
I like to think of validating as a higher level extension of listening. Therefore, when implementing basic listening strategies, one may feel heard. When using validation, one may feel understood. Validating can possible through “mind-reading” what your teen is not directly saying. For example, “I wonder if you felt embarrassed when you asked that question in class and your teacher just brushed it off.” Another way can be communicating to your teen that their thoughts or emotions make sense in a particular situation, or make sense given their history or past experiences. An example of the latter is, “Wow, it makes sense that you were worried about your exam when the last one was so difficult for you.”
3. Offer support, not reassurance
If I had a quarter for all the times I’ve heard the phrase, “Everything is going to be just fine!”…. Many are quick to offer (well meaning!) reassurance that things will turn out ok. The truth is, things do not always work out in the ideal way. To the point above in item 2, reassurance can be invalidating for some, and for others it offers a false promise for the future outcome. Additionally, what could be more helpful to teens is to highlight that. However, although they may not have control over every outcome, they can find ways to cope. This might include enduring the challenge of working through a difficult situation, problem solving solutions that take them toward their goal, and, if necessary, tolerating the negative emotions that may come up with less-than ideal outcomes.
Moreover, asking your teen for what might be most helpful can be a more effective method of providing support. A way to phrase this is – “It sounds like you are overwhelmed by the additional honors course you enrolled in this year. Do you want to vent about it or would you prefer some help in figuring out some ways to deal with the higher homework load?”
The first step in addressing your anxious teen is to understand what generalized anxiety looks like. You can use active listening, validating, and laying off the reassurance to help you understand your teen’s anxiety and improve your communication with them.
If your teen is struggling to cope with their anxiety or you need support in building your communication with them, let us help.
Learn more about our Teen Anxiety Services
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Brave Minds Psychological Services helps children, teens and families overcome severe anxiety, stress, and painful experiences. We specialize in developing brave minded youth that can move forward despite fears and significant challenges.