Psychologists and other mental health professionals have noticed a spike in the number of teenagers suffering with anxiety. They believe the rising number of adolescents dealing with anxiety is the result of several cultural, biological, and familial factors. In simple terms, anxiety can be defined as “the fear of the future, or the fear of the unknown”. It can manifest itself in worries, phobias, obsessions, compulsions, PTSD, social anxiety, and so on. Symptoms of anxiety can include but are not limited to fatigue, change in appetite, racing heart, excessive sweating, stomach pains, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, etc. While anxiety is something that can present itself at all stages of life, the purpose of this article is to examine some of the root causes for teenagers dealing with anxiety.
Let’s take a look at just a few developmental tasks that teenager’s face on a daily basis in order to gain a better understanding:
Developing an Identity
Teenagers today are also coming of age in a time when they’ve never known life apart from smartphones, social media, terrorism, and global conflict. They also feel numerous amounts of pressure to create and manage a digital identity. Keep in mind that according to society, their digital and technological identity must also be portrayed and match identically in social situations. Some of our modern day reality TV shows certainly negatively validate that for them and continue to apply endless amounts of pressures and stress to “keep up”. But, on top of all that, this developmental stage is where the big question “Who am I?” is explored. This question covers sexual orientation, relationships, physical appearance, personality, belief systems, spirituality, and so on.
Autonomy from Parents
One of the more common phrases heard from teens during this developmental phase is “I don’t need you, I can do it by myself”. While it is age appropriate to test limits, teens often experience confusion and ambivalence while doing so. In reality, family hierarchies can oftentimes be skewed. Although teenagers give the impression that they want to self-govern their own lives and be in charge, deep down they know they aren’t capable of making healthy, wise decisions. They want their parents to be leaders even if there is dissension and tension. When the family hierarchy shifts or is even flipped upside down, a teen’s anxiety is most likely to skyrocket.
Building a Social Network
Oftentimes a teenager’s friends’ opinions and advice become paramount in their life – not their parents’. Why is this? Well, usually because friends often give a sense of belonging and understanding. How often have you heard your teen say “You don’t understand what I’m going through!” or “You don’t understand ME!”. If they truly believe you don’t understand any part of their being, their sense of acceptance comes from their friends. Now, in order to keep gaining their friends’ acceptance and approval, teens find great pressures in constantly having to conform and change along with their friend group. Can you see how this also then adds stress to a teen also trying to find their identity?
These are just a few of the major stressors teens face on a daily basis. Imagine throwing some of the following also common stressors in the mix as well:
· Happiness is all the rage!
· Receiving unrealistic praise from teens, teachers, coaches, etc.
· Not learning proper emotional skills or resilience
· Parents viewing themselves as protectors rather than guides
· Lack of free time/play
So, here comes the big question: how do you help your struggling teen? First – open communication. This means leaving all shame, guilt, judgment, personal biases, constant correction, etc. at the door. Casting any of these onto your teen will most likely immediately shut the door and will be extremely difficult to reopen. Once this door of communication is open, you can then enter through with empathy. Empathy is the ability to identify and label the emotions your teen is experiencing and responding in such a way. This looks like entering into your teen’s life and literally coming alongside them through extending compassion, strength, comfort, and power. Practically, you could try saying, “I care so much that you’re struggling” and “I can’t promise you scary stuff won’t happen, but I can promise that you are strong enough to handle it, and I will walk with you through it”. This approach reflects the truth that Christ did not come to prevent people from ever experiencing suffering but to be a constant presence through pain and worry.
In Romans 5, Paul begins with telling us that making sense of our pain produces endurance and hope. And as so we do so, we carry the promise that God will be with us. This is the very essence of the meaning of the word Emmanuel.
Please come join me, September 30, 2018 at 6pm at Mount Bethel Church in Mt. Bethel, PA as I lead a training on “Dealing with Teen Anxiety”. All of the points mentioned in this article (and more!) will be discussed in further detail throughout the duration of the training. The evening will conclude with a Q&A time featuring myself, Ben Updegrove, and Lauraine Masciantonio. Register here.
Written by Brianna Consiglio, M.A