The teen years are a difficult period of transition for most people, even in the best of circumstances. Moodiness, emotional reactions to peer conflicts, and struggles with physical changes while growing are all typical and expected conditions of being a teen. However, today’s teens are dealing with something that goes beyond normal teenage issues, and it can sometimes be difficult for parents to know the difference.
Both anxiety and depression are on the rise among children aged 12 to 17 years. These serious mental health concerns come with dangerous consequences, and many parents of children who suffer from anxiety or depression report that they didn’t see the warning signs until the condition was very serious.
What Does Anxiety Look Like in Teens?
It’s important to recognize the signs of anxiety and to be able to distinguish them from typical teenage moodiness. Parents should keep an eye out for these signs:
Unexplained emotional outbursts
Isolating themselves from friends
Complaints of frequent stomachaches or headaches
Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Being overwhelmed by school work
Falling behind on assignments
While it’s possible that some of those symptoms could have other, more typical, explanations, it’s important to be on the lookout for their frequency, severity, and combination. If a parent is seeing these symptoms often or in a severe form, they should consider taking their child to a medical professional for anxiety screening.
Why is Student Anxiety on the Rise?
There is a lot of speculation about what may be causing this rise in anxiety for teenagers. Many experts blame the changes to our social interactions, particularly with the ever-present glow of social media taking over so many lives.
One way that social media has changed teens’ interactions is that it has turned bullying into cyberbullying. Teens are finding it difficult to escape their tormentors who can now come right into their bedrooms and living rooms via social media, often without anyone around them even knowing what’s going on. This ever-present nature of bullying can be absolutely overwhelming, leaving teens feeling a constant sense of unease and fear that can turn into anxiety.
Even teens who are not suffering at the hands of a cyberbully need to be careful about their social media use, however. The pressure to present a perfect picture of their lives can be incredibly strong. The effort to present their physical appearance, their activities, and their peer group in a particular light makes it difficult to ever relax, and teen anxiety may be related to this feeling of having to always be putting on a public performance.
Other theories about the rise of teen anxiety include the way that parenting roles have shifted. With many parents taking on the role of a protector (or a “Lawnmower Parent”) rather than a guide, teens are feeling ill-equipped to deal with the stresses and emotional requirements of maturity as they enter into adulthood. Teens need to learn how to face fears and overcome increasingly difficult obstacles if they are to be fully equipped for the realities of their adult futures.
What Can Parents Do About It?
The best defense against anxiety is a good offense. Setting strong social media boundaries including removing devices at bedtime, limiting overall screentime, and having frequent discussions about who teens are talking to and what they’re talking about sets up a positive flow of information between parents and teens, giving them an avenue to discuss if things get overwhelming.
Parents can also make sure that they are giving their children emotional tools by being careful about the praise they give. Instead of setting up unrealistic expectations or constantly praising results, parents can praise effort and make sure to remain positive when a child fails or stumbles. Parents can also be conscious of building resilience in their kids by providing opportunities to fail and bounce back in small ways so that they will have the skills to handle big setbacks later in life.
Here at The Tenney School, we are committed to providing safe, healthy learning environments where children can thrive through these challenging times.