A parent comforts an anxious teen

A Parent’s Guide to Teen Anxiety

6 min.

Learn about anxiety disorders in teens and the importance of helping your child to cope and seek treatment.

By: Dr. Caroline Fenkel, DSW, LCSW

August 16, 2022


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Table of Contents

Anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread, or uneasiness that’s considered to be a completely normal reaction to stressful situations. As a parent, you might be anxious about whether or not your child will be accepted into their preferred college or have a date to prom or connect with the right friend group. Similarly, your teenager might be stressed about those exact same situations. 

While anxiety is certainly common, it’s important to understand how exactly your child is affected by anxiety. Everyone experiences the feeling from time to time, but for those suffering from an anxiety disorder, the sense of fear over everyday events and situations doesn’t go away; in fact, it can actually worsen over time. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, an anxiety disorder requires a person’s fear or anxiety to be out of proportion to the situation and hinder their ability to function normally. Nearly one out of three adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, with the prevalence of anxiety disorders increasing over time. Between global issues like the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change, increasing societal pressure to be perfect, and constant social media use, it’s no wonder that teens are feeling a bit more anxious these days. 

Below, we break down how anxiety impacts your teen’s health and wellbeing, as well as advice and resources for helping your child to cope with an anxiety disorder and the co-occurring symptoms. 

How anxiety can impact your teen

There are several types of anxiety disorders—such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder—and they all affect a person a bit differently. For example, panic disorder causes frequent and unexpected panic attacks which can last for just a few minutes at a time. Phobias, on the other hand, cause people to experience an excessive, irrational fear about something that poses little or no real threat (i.e. spiders or public speaking). 

Generally speaking, anxiety disorders are overwhelming and often even debilitating. Depending on the severity of a person’s disorder, symptoms can even interfere with a person’s daily activities such as school work, employment, and personal relationships— all which can have a lifelong impact. 

An untreated anxiety disorder can also have a serious impact on a person’s mental health, including depression, substance use, and even suicide

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Signs that your child is suffering from anxiety

Common behavioral signs and symptoms of anxiety in children, teens, and young adults include:

  • Recurring fear and worry about routine parts of everyday life
  • Changes in behavior, such as irritability, nervousness, or restlessness
  • Avoiding activities, school, or social interactions
  • Trouble sleeping, concentrating, or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Substance use or other risky behaviors

Chronic physical complaints, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Stomachaches
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Hyperventilating
  • Increased heart rate
teen anxiously looking at her computer

How to Help Your Child or Teen with Anxiety

Do your research

The exact cause of anxiety is unknown, but research points to genetics, stress, and environment as potential factors. Anxiety disorders can be inherited—meaning it runs in the family—or they can develop due to traumatic life events. If you suspect that anxiety runs in the family or that something in your child’s past might make them prone to an anxiety disorder, consider finding ways to be proactive in order to better educate yourself and your child to navigate the condition. 

Be responsive

Anxiety can be described many different ways … jumpiness, butterflies, uneasiness, the jitters, angst, fear, panic, worry. If your child opens up about how they’re feeling, it’s your job as a parent to listen and be supportive. Research shows that spotting anxiety symptoms earlier (i.e., during childhood) is key to preventing the development of anxiety disorders in later life.

How can you help? Start by showing empathy and compassion for their stress, then working together to immediately start seeking solutions to help them cope.

Build their self-esteem

Parenting is tough; any parent will agree with you there. You’re a cheerleader, a challenger, a protector, and throughout all that, you also need to help your teen develop healthy self-esteem.

Why is that last role so important? Well, people with positive self-esteem tend to believe in themselves, and be proud of who they are and what they do. Confident teens are better prepared to make good decisions, handle peer pressure, and recover from challenges and setbacks.

Let your teen make their own choices, give them responsibility, and encourage them to take risks—all of which can promote resilience in the face of adversity. This may be tough, but some research shows that youth with over-controlling parents will interpret their parents’ actions to mean that they don’t believe in their ability to successfully navigate life’s challenges, which could ultimately increase their levels of worry and social anxiety.

Be a positive role model

Have you ever heard someone say that kids are like sponges? Children start learning through example at an early age and one of the lessons they’re observing is how their parents handle challenging situations—something that will be useful during their teen years. 

When parents show their teenagers how to productively manage their stress, they’re teaching them how to navigate their emotions, build resilience, and tackle life’s ups and downs. By effectively managing your own stress and engaging in self-care practices, you’re showing your child that these are valuable tools that they can leverage to take care of their mental health and wellbeing.

Encourage healthy habits

Speaking of self-care, consider encouraging your teen to create a daily routine that prioritizes healthy sleep hygiene, a balanced meal, limited social media use, and consistent exercise. 

Seek professional support or treatment 

Sometimes, self-care alone isn’t enough to help your child manage their stress and anxiety. That’s where medication and intensive outpatient therapy can help. 

There are four major classes of medication that are frequently used to treat anxiety disorders: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI), benzodiazepines, and tricyclic antidepressants. Each drug has its own uses, benefits, risks, and side effects so it’s best to review your child’s condition with a healthcare professional to find the medication that’s right for them. 

Psychotherapy is often used in conjunction with medication or on its own to treat anxiety disorders. Whether it’s cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills, or mindfulness practices, a mental health professional is equipped to speak with your teen about their feelings, symptoms, and ways to cope. 

Support your teen with Charlie Health

Many teens feel embarrassed or overwhelmed by their mental health struggles, so opening up to their parents can be a big step. If you think that your teen might benefit from speaking with a mental health professional, Charlie Health is here to help. Whether you’re exploring treatment options for the first time or searching for extra support, Charlie Health can help your teen in a safe, supportive space.

Our intensive outpatient treatment programs provide a high-quality, comprehensive treatment solution that includes supported groups, family therapy, and individual therapy. Our compassionate, experienced team of clinicians is here to listen to your child’s needs, answer their questions, and help them start the healing process.

Contact Charlie Health today.

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