7 Ways to Cope with Anxiety about Your Teen
How parents of teenagers can manage their fears.
All parents worry about their children’s well-being at any age, but the issues to worry about mount when children hit the teen years. I am often asked by parents of one child about how to deal with the anxiety they feel. With one child the focus can be more intense, however a parent’s anxiety, upset, or despair when something goes amiss is the same no matter how many children there are in the family.
Parental anxiety is readily absorbed by children and not helpful as teenagers navigate their more complex world—facing more temptations and risks then they did as young children.
I asked my colleague, Dr. Alice Boyes, author of The Anxiety Toolkit, to recommend ways that all parents can tamp down the anxiety they feel as their kids enter the teen years.
7 Ways to Cope with Anxiety about Your Teen
1. Whether you have one adolescent or several, first, be compassionate with yourself about your feelings. There’s no need to beat yourself up about the fact you’re worried. You want to keep your child safe and that concern is bubbling over as anxiety. That’s very understandable and relatable.
2. Confront your specific fears. For instance, do you fear your child will die in a car crash? Is your fear that your child will do something stupid and get arrested? Once you identify your specific fears, gather some “base rate” data on how likely those things are.
Don’t spend hours researching; a 5-minute Google search will usually give you helpful information. For example, a World Health Organization report indicates that the death rate for adolescents aged 10-19 in high-income countries is about 10 per 100,000 in any given day, so around 0.001%. The report also breaks down the major causes of adolescent death and serious injury in those same countries.
The facts make it clear that your son or daughter is unlikely meet harm in this way. While confronting your specific fears might make you more anxious in the short-term, it should decrease your anxiety overall.
3. Once you’ve looked at what the most realistic worries are, identify what you can do to lessen those risks. For example, for male adolescents in the 15-19 age group, road injury is a realistic concern. Perhaps you could schedule a driving lesson every 3 months for your child even after they get their driver’s license so that the instructor can catch any bad habits your teen might be slipping into. The paradox of excessive worry is that it’s paralyzing, and can make people less likely to take the practical steps that would lessen the risk of whatever they’re anxious about.
4. Take practical steps, but don’t go overboard. You might decide to plan or implement one risk reduction strategy every month. Try to start with the things that worry you the most, even if they’re things you’re tempted to avoid such as talking to your adolescent about sexual consent or alcohol and other drug use.article continues after advertisement
5. Keep in mind that while a catastrophe is unlikely, it’s more likely that you and your adolescent might need to deal with a mildly to moderately negative situation, whether it’s bullying, failing to make a sports team, or test anxiety. The best approach to concerns like these is to briefly imagine how, in practical terms, you’d cope if one of them occurred, and that could include getting support for yourself or for your teen.
Reassure yourself that you have the capacity to cope with these sorts of circumstances. Although they would be emotionally difficult to deal with and you might not feel 100% confident or get it 100% right, you’ll be prepared to successfully navigate challenges.
6. You can probably easily think of the risks of being under-protective. In addition, think about the potential costs of being over-protective. By being overprotective you impede your teen’s desire for independence or you can raise a teen who feels stifled and leans on you for every little thing. Write down some of the things you do because of your concern. How might you pull back or at the least, strike a balance?
Whether or not your child has siblings to share the rocky road of the teen years, a child needs to explore and make mistakes to learn and grow.
7. Acknowledge anything that’s going on for you related to your child getting older. Are you concerned about how your identity will shift as you transition to being the parent of a teen rather than a young child? Make sure worries that relate to you aren’t getting unconsciously mixed in with your anxiety about your child’s safety. Acknowledge your own emotions and thoughts without judging them.article continues after advertisement
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