How to Support a Teen Struggling with Anxiety: 3 Tips for Parents
In this blog post, Kelly Peyton, LPC-S, RPT-S, Clinical Director at Katy Counseling in Katy, TX, shares her seasoned insights on how to support a teenager who is struggling with teen anxiety.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 5.8 million children ages 3-17 were diagnosed with anxiety between 2016-2019. As a clinician specializing in child and teen therapy, I have personally witnessed a massive uptick in anxiety and anxiety related disorders such as:
COVID-19 and the media coverage of the school shootings have contributed to this rise. But teen anxiety has been on the rise since 2007.
Issues such as social anxiety, school avoidance, fear of illness, fear of death, and overall stress seem to be ballooning at a pace faster than ever. As more teens suffer from anxiety, parents also turn for help in learning how to best support their teen as they watch helplessly or in frustration.
What Can Parents Do That Can Help?
A teen struggling with teen anxiety can pose some tricky parenting challenges. The anxiety is often irrational. Many time, we as parents apply our rational minds to our teen's fears and are often left scratching our heads wondering what the big deal is. Teenagers also may not understand the anxiety they are experiencing. They understand their fears are irrational. They see other kids who appear "normal" and judge themselves to these kids, and sometimes are embarrassed to acknowledge having anxiety to their parents.
So, teens will make up excuses that allow them to avoid the situations causing anxiety without admitting the anxiety. For example, if a teen gets panic attacks attending school but doesn't want to tell their parents they are having panic attacks, they may say they are sick to get out of going to school. And then the sick days start to pile up.
What do we do as parents? How do we parent a teenager who is struggling with anxiety? Where is the balance between disciplining behavior and punishing them for having anxiety?
3 Tips to Help Parents Who Have a Teen Suffering from Anxiety
Anxiety is among one of the more common mental health struggles we face in the United States. As a result, there are many great approaches in helping teens overcome anxiety.
There are also teen therapists who have specialized experience in supporting parents in parenting a teen with anxiety. Below are some tips to help parents who may have a teen struggling with anxiety.
1. Educate Yourself on What Anxiety Is & Is Not
Take time to understand what anxiety is and how it presents in teens. Anxiety is part of our brain’s natural defense system against perceived danger.
We all experience fear, stress, and anxiety in everyday life and yet sometimes this defense system can become overactive. While anxiety can present in several different ways, here are a few things to keep an eye out for.
Anxiety will trigger the part of the brain responsible for the fight, flight, freeze or fawn responses. Many teens who seem argumentative or refuse to attend school or other functions are actually responding from this fear center in a “fight” response.
Others may seemingly avoid scary or difficult tasks such as homework or social events as their flight response kicks in.
The freeze response may seem a little trickier to identify, but in many cases those teens who appear unmotivated or who cannot explain their actions are actually stuck in the freeze part of the brain.
And finally, the teen who seems to go along with whatever their peers or parents want (even if it’s not good for them), may actually be acting from a fawn response out of fear of rejection.
It can be helpful for parents to understand many of the behaviors associated with anxiety are automatic, and not coming from a place of willful disrespect or disobedience. This doesn’t mean parents have to accept poor behavior, but rather it can help parents come from a more empathetic and less hurt perspective.
2. Have Patience with Your Teen (And Yourself)
Teen anxiety does more than just stress the teen suffering with the disorder. The entire family can begin to suffer from the effects of anxiety as frustration, anger, and fear kick in. Many teens ask for excessive reassurance or attention to soothe themselves and this can begin to exhaust already stressed-out parents.
Likewise, a teen in fight mode may act in ways that seem disrespectful or hurtful causing even more stress on the family. This additional stress often leads to arguments, nagging, punishments, and additional emotional burdens for the teen only compounding their issues.
Again, while parents do need to set expectations and have good boundaries, learning to respond to a teen’s anxiety with patience and compassion can help reduce shame and guilt from being heaped on the teen.
This may mean parents need to be intentional about their own self-care or get support from their teen’s therapist for tools to communicate effectively. It can help to take a break or short time out when a parent is feeling overwhelmed or angry and cool down before stepping in to support their teen.
3. Help Your Teen do the Hard Thing!
Teen anxiety is a tricky disorder that often seeks to avoid doing the hard thing (either by fighting, running way, or freezing as mentioned before). Out of frustration, parents are seemingly left with two choices:
force compliance, or
let it go/do if for them.
Neither of these options help a teen learn how to cope with their anxiety and face their fears.
When forced into compliance, this often causes relationship damage as the teen fights to avoid it or causes damage to their self-esteem feeling like a disappointment, or failure.
When parents let it go or do it for them, this may inadvertently send a message to their teen that they don’t think they can handle it and need saving.
Instead, I suggest parents come alongside their teen as a coach and help their teen problem solve barriers to the issue and small steps toward success. This may mean breaking tasks down into smaller steps or shortening the requirements for a short period of time as your teen learns new skills and adding intensity or time as they become more skillful.
If your teen is suffering from anxiety and it is significantly impacting their ability to function or causing stress in the family, I highly recommend seeking professional help from a teen counselor and someone who specializes in teen counseling.
Teen counseling can help your teen identify triggers to anxiety, challenge negative thoughts, learn effective coping skills, an improve relationships. Parents can also learn valuable tools for coping with anxiety and coaching their teen through it.
Katy Teen & Family Counseling: 70+ Years of Combined Experience in Specializing in Teen Therapy Katy, TX & Houston
Your teen doesn't have to suffer from symptoms of teen anxiety any longer. They can be free from those symptoms and experience their teen years as they are meant to. As parents, you can also have a source of support from a specialist in teen counseling who can help answer some of the questions you may have.
At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we have 70+ years of combined experience in teen therapy, young adult counseling, and family therapy. At our Katy, TX location, our teen counseling specialists are here to help your teen, young adult, and provide the support parents need too. If you are ready to meet with one of our therapists, all you need to do is follow these three simple steps:
Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling
Talk with one of our caring therapists
Begin the healing process today!
Other Therapy and Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling
At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we provide a variety of therapy approaches that are supported by research and shown to be effective. Some of the teen therapy and young adult counseling we offer are:
Board Certified Neurofeedback Therapy
Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)
Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)
Group Therapy for Teens
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Couples Therapy & Marriage Counseling
Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling can be very effective. The secret ingredient to success is each person willing to look at themselves and work to do things differently, together. When a marriage counselor or couples therapist has this to work with, the success rate can be very high.
Sometimes life will throw challenges at us that create situations that put strain on our marriage or relationship. It may be due to:
Choices and actions that have been made by one partner.
Financial downturn in the economy creating financial strain.
Feeling like you're growing apart.
Feeling like you don't have as much in common as you used to.
Whatever the reason may be, marriage counseling and couples therapy can help. Couples therapy and marriage counseling has also been found to work in less time than individual therapy.
If you've worked hard for this relationship and find that there are now barriers in the way of maintaining a healthy relationship, contact us at Katy Teen & Family Counseling.
About the Author
Kelly Peyton, LPC-S, RPT-S, is the Clinical Director of Katy Counseling, located in Katy, TX. Kelly has over 12 years of experience working with children, teens, and their families suffering from anxiety and other mental health disorders.
She is passionate about teaching, training, and equipping the next generation of therapists as a supervisor and through her various networks of therapist.
As the former president of the Sam Houston Chapter of the Texas Association of Play therapy, she worked with play therapists from around the country to bring the highest level of training to the Houston Area therapists.
She is also a speaker and trainer for counselor education and play therapy specializing in high conflict divorce cases, ethics, and supervision.
If you are ready to start teen counseling or young adult therapy call, text, or email us today!
Phone Number: 281-519-6364