As we have entered into 2021, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to affect us and our families. Anxiety and depression have dramatically increased, particularly for adolescents. As parents navigate their own stressors and “new normal,” it may be overwhelming to try to address your teen’s anxiety. There may be some behaviors that, unknown to well-meaning parents, may actually be compounding the increased anxiety your child is experiencing. We hope to provide additional insight and tools to help you support your family as best as possible during these challenging times.
Increased anxiety in teens
Anxiety, although uncomfortable, is a natural and necessary emotion that all of us experience from time to time. It is very common for adolescents to have increased anxiety due to hormonal and brain changes, societal pressures, academic challenges, identity development, and an increased desire for independence. Add on to that the effects of the pandemic—such as limited social interaction, health concerns, and loss of routine—and it’s understandable that your teen may be facing increased struggles.
This instability, particularly for student athletes, may also contribute to identity issues. If your child is an athlete, you are well aware of the commitment and dedication required to juggle the demands of academia and athletics. All your teen’s hard work may have been met with a season ending prematurely or wholly canceled.
With so much still unknown about the future of sports, teens may be experiencing a deep sense of loss and confusion about who they are as an athlete.
How parents can confront their behaviors that may be enabling anxiety
As a parent, you want the best for your child! And bearing witness to them experiencing anxiety can be troubling and concerning. You may not be aware of how certain behaviors of yours could actually be contributing to their stress and anxiety, even if well-intentioned. It may be helpful to be open-minded and look within to examine if you are placing any additional pressures on your teen that you may not have thought about before.
Even amid the pandemic, it’s important to remain supportive and empathetic with your kids, communicating clear boundaries while also allowing them to have a sense of freedom.
Some efforts parents make can do more harm than good. These are some common strategies to look out for:
Minimizing your teenager’s feelings
As an adult, it may seem like your child is over-reacting. You may even think to yourself, “If only my problems were as simple as theirs!”. However, to them, everything they have known has been completely flipped upside down. Phrases such as “it’s not that big of a deal” or “you have so much to be grateful for” are invalidating and unsupportive.
Setting unrealistic expectations
You know how incredible your child is and want to see them realize their highest potential. But beware of placing undue pressure and expecting perfection from them. They may be fearful of disappointing you and others, leading to unrealistic standards that contribute to anxiety.
Be mindful of any comments that compare your teen to siblings or their peers. We want to avoid communicating the message that your child is not good enough as they are, causing them to believe they must “do better” or change who they are to please you.
Not allowing space for mistakes
If you punish your children every time they make a mistake, your teen will learn to define their worth based on their achievements. Failure is inevitable. Sending the message that “it’s not okay to not be okay” may lead to your child doing whatever it takes to prove themselves successful, no matter the cost.
How to support your teen in 2021
So, if those are the “do not’s,” what should you do? If your teenager is feeling anxious, these are some ways you can help support them:
Acknowledge and validate
It’s crucial that your child feels heard and accepted despite their anxious feelings. Let them know it’s okay to feel and that you recognize all of the stressors in their life that may contribute to the anxiety.
Set small goals
Gently help your child set small goals to address the things that make them feel anxious. Encourage them, but don’t force them or take control. Show them that you believe in their ability without pushing them too hard.
Try to be a role model
Show your teen healthy coping skills in the way that you manage your own anxieties. Share vulnerably with them about your stressors to help normalize their emotions while teaching them methods you have learned to deal with your own struggles.
Support your teen in seeking professional help
If your child’s anxiety is interfering with their daily life or has become unmanageable, reaching out to a mental health professional may be the next step. Ensure you are destigmatizing the idea of therapy so that your teen feels comfortable getting help.
Pure Health Center offers counseling services to assist in providing relief and tools to manage anxiety so that your teen (and you!) can thrive as a family.