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Parenting a Stressed Teen

photo credit: jose-a-thompson/unsplash teen boy eye; Sanctuary Christian Counseling in Shippensburg PA

While I am preparing for an upcoming presentation on teen anxiety and I simultaneously watch my daughter study and stress over her final exams, I felt a blog post about this topic may not be a bad idea.

I work with many teenagers that struggle with anxiety. I understand how this feels as a parent too. I have three adult/teenage children and can also relate to what it feels like trying to support and help your teenager.

Anxiety and stress in children is becoming more prevalent in our modern world where they feel compelled to achieve more than any generation before. The demands on them to succeed academically or in athletics is real.

Additionally, teens struggle with a relatively new phenomenon that includes “being on” 24/7.

With the introduction of social media comes a new host of social pressures, including more isolation and difficulty relating to others in real-life situations, the pressure to create an online presence, struggles with self-esteem and self-worth due to comparisons and online bullying, and the list goes on and on. Many teens try and manage stress and anxiety on their own. They often feel that by sharing their true feelings they will disappoint their parents or they won’t measure up with their friends and that no one will really understand what life is like for them. Teenagers will often mask their feelings or isolate themselves until their anxiety and stresses are overwhelming.

Give Yourself Grace

Raising a teen is challenging! As adults, we don't have it all figured out either. Don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself as a parent. This will only stress you out, so be kind to yourself. You are parenting in a new age as well. At no other time in history have parents had the demands of trying to “do it all” like they do today. There is no manual to accompany the technological explosion and we are all learning as we go on how to best create boundaries with technology while still living in the modern world. Be open with your teen and admit how this feels to you, the more vulnerable you can be, the more your teen will feel accepted with their struggles and honest dialogue can emerge.

Common Teen Stresses:

Life as a teenager produces a tremendous amount of stress which can trigger anxiety and/or depression. Some of the most common stresses teenagers face include-

School- Worrying about their academic performance, feeling pressure to meet family’s expectations about grades, social pressures of fitting in, and athletic achievements and performance.

Social Pressure- from trying to manage and maintain friendships and romantic relationships. This can include peer pressure and can be heightened by social media and online use.

Family- Our home environment can become a stress source if there is consistent conflict, divorce, illness, a new move or adjustment to household income.

Trauma- experiencing any traumatic event, including the loss of a loved one or pet.

Time Management- Pressure from lack of time to keep up with the demands placed on them can create poor eating habits and lack of sleep.

Let’s Talk About This Thing Called Social Media

Does your teen own a smart phone or tablet? Do you feel they spend too much time on their devices?

Do you think this could be a problem and contribute to symptoms of anxiety and depression?

This is a generation of pioneers. They are the first generation to travel through adolescence where their life is constantly on display. And lets be honest, everyone tries to make their life look wonderful and perfect on social media. We don’t yet know the scope of the negative impacts this will have long term on your child’s mental and physical health, however, we do know it is already cause for concern.

Self-esteem and self-worth are being attacked and damaged at alarming rates from social media comparisons. It is also a problem when it comes to social bullying. As parents, we could escape the harsh comments or the bullies, at least for a while when we got off the school bus. That is not so anymore. Kids are constantly bombarded with criticisms and online bullying behavior 24/7. The only time they get a real break from it is when they are asleep.

A new Pew Research Center survey conducted in March of 2018, finds that 59% of U.S. teens have personally experienced abusive online behaviors. The most common type of harassment youth encounter online is name-calling. Some 42% of teens say they have been called offensive names online or via their cellphone. Additionally, about a third (32%) of teens say someone has spread false rumors about them on the internet, while smaller shares have had someone other than a parent constantly ask where they are, who they’re with or what they’re doing (21%) or have been the target of physical threats online (16%).

Have regular conversations with your teen about their online use. Ask if they feel they use their device too much. Ask them to communicate how they feel when they take a break from their phones. Maybe this is something you can do together. Admit you don’t know all of the answers and explain how you feel about the negative effects of technology.

Anxiety and Depression Often Like Each Others Company

When we live in a state of continuous anxiety it can wear us down. We all have moments when we feel down, unmotivated or sad. Staying stuck there is when it becomes a problem.

Here are some signs to look for in your teen.

If you notice a persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest in life

Sleep disturbances (too much or too little)

Isolation or withdrawal from family and friends

Excessive hunger or loss of appetite

Excessive crying or mood swings

Lack of concentration

Thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

What Can I Do to Help?

As parents, we naturally want to help our children when they are struggling. Knowing how to help can be difficult. Each teen responds differently to help. Keep in my mind that their reaction to your efforts are not a good indicator that your efforts aren’t helpful or that they don’t matter to your teen. Teens will often allow their feelings of guilt and shame to push away those they love even when they truly want or need your help.

Some Strategies That May Help

Be a good listener and try and demonstrate empathy for their struggle. Their struggle is unique to them and offering comparisons to try and illustrate how you can relate often backfires.

Ask them frequently what they need from you. What they may need to feel supported and not alone changes from day to day and sometimes even moment to moment. What they need from you at one moment might be just you listening, while the next they may feel the need to get out of the house to distract them from their thoughts and feelings.

Show your teen that you are on their side. This demonstrates that the anxiety is the problem, not your teenager.

Promote dialogue that challenges negative thinking. Pose thoughtful questions to help them explore alternative (less devastating ) outcomes.

What evidence supports your fear? What are some more positive ways we can look at this? How much will this matter to you in a month or a year?

“What if” thinking is rarely helpful and often never happens. When we start catastrophizing our thinking we ramp up our fears.

Encourage engaging behaviors with your teen, such as taking a walk with them or playing a game.

This will promote conversation and often takes some of the pressure off.

Monitor screen time and encourage healthy habits when it comes to eating and sleeping.

Seek Help When Needed.

Trust your gut. You know your child better than anyone else. If you feel your child may be struggling with anxiety or depression and nothing you try seems to be reaching them, consider therapy or a consult with your doctor. Talking to a therapist can help. Therapists provide a non-judgmental and safe environment for your teen to share their feelings and help them develop healthy coping skills to manage anxiety and depression. Often Exposure Therapy and CBT are useful in helping them better manage their fears and anxiety.

In some cases a visit to your doctor may be needed to help. Sometimes medications are needed to help manage anxiety and depression.

Of course anytime your teen mentions thoughts of self-harm or suicide take them seriously. You can call the Crisis Intervention Hotline at 717-264-2555 at any time 24 hours a day. If you find your teen is in an emergency situation, call 911 immediately.

If you or your teen is struggling with managing anxiety or depression, we are here to help. Contact us at

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