By Rachel Ruiz,
August 9, 2021
Myths About Teens with Anxiety
So, we’re all moving past the “buck up, get over it” strategy right?
Most parents grew up with this mentality and don’t want to perpetuate that with their own kids.
And yet, sometimes we inadvertently do just that without knowing it. You’ve had it happen, when you finally exclaim the very thing you scoffed at as a child…
“You don’t understand!” Parents and teens have been saying this to each other for decades. When it comes to supporting a teen with anxiety, it can be even more disorienting. You try supportive listening, letting them take a day off from school. You try tough love, exposing them to ways to overcome their fears. You try relating, and dragging up your old memories doesn’t feel too hot either.
So what to do, when it feels like nothing is working?
Start by unpacking these common myths about anxiety.
Myth 1: Anxiety is bad and prevents your child from succeeding.
When those familiar jitters come, this is critical information for your teen about how they are feeling. Understanding emotions takes practice and sorting out one stressor from another is a highly adaptive skill that is absolutely necessary for facing life’s challenges.
We would not be able to survive without anxiety. It tells us that something is up, something needs changing, or that we need a break. Pushing through limitations without examining what is needed is this millennia’s repackaged “suck it up” strategy.
Myth 2: Anxiety can be fixed with simple coping strategies.
Though we do need to take a deep breath every once in awhile, imagine that a doctor has a patient bleeding out and the nurse says “let’s put on a bandaid, that’ll do the trick.” Reflect on what level of anxiety your teen is experiencing. Do they burst into tears at the thought of going to school? Or are they having sweaty palms before a big game? If you’re getting that gut feeling that something is really off, talk to a counselor or support professional. They can help you sort out what needs a bandaid and what needs more intensive care.
Sometimes anxiety stems from a deeper message your teen is receiving, from their environment (school, home) or from society (social media, TV). If we constantly worry that we can’t measure up, asking someone to override their ways of protecting themselves from failure will certainly amplify their stress. Get curious about what messages your child has received about who they are supposed to be. And really, just ask them! Teens have no qualms with honesty when they feel you are really open to hearing their thoughts.
Myth 3: Anxiety makes your teen less resilient in life.
Our brains and bodies are incredibly powerful at assessing a wide variety of stimuli. From facial expressions to changes in temperature, we pick up a lot on a daily basis. Your brain is constantly trying to make sense of all the input you are taking in. Your teen is likely sensitive to all this information and at this developmental stage, the brain is keenly focused on processing emotions. Sprinkle in hormones and other troubles they may have experienced in life, and you may have a teen with a lot of unfettered worries. What if we help rewrite that story, and your teen can use all of their sensory input and perceptions to empower themselves?
When your child learns how to understand and live with anxiety, it starts to feel more manageable. This builds a framework that their feelings and experiences are valid. That we don’t have to be worker robots with no connection to our inner world — a more balanced perspective on life’s hardship. There are things we can’t control and that support is possible.
Myth 4: Your kid has anxiety because you didn’t teach them how to cope with stress.
There is one major positive of the teen years that is not talked about enough — the fact that your child is learning from broader influences about what’s important to them. Rest easy, you’re no longer the center of their universe (ouch though, am I right?). At this age, your teen is learning about communication and stress from multiple sources. Ask your teen about what’s important to them, what they want to prioritize, and quite frankly, how they feel. Do this outside of the “heat of the moment” and respect when they don’t know or can’t articulate it. They are just as confused as you are.
Transitioning to parenting a teenager is like going from a teacher to a mentor. Take a step back and observe how you can strengthen the person they already are. And when all else fails, give yourself a pat on the back — you made it this far. There will be tough spots, but your curiosity about your child’s emotional state will go a long way, even when it feels like nothing is working.
Disclaimer: This article is not a replacement for mental health treatment. If you are concerned about your child’s safety or wellbeing, get help immediately.
Crisis Text Line (United States): Text HOME to 741741
Rachel Ruiz, LCSW www.thepathwellnesscenter.com
About The Author
Hello, I’m Rachel Ruiz. Among many cherished identities, I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, romantic poet, cautious adventurer, mother to a much more adventurous child, vegan-ish, and a loyal companion to any traveler on the path to healing. With a decade of work in social services, I’ve had the honor of supporting people from all walks of life. Whether you are coping with unexpected loss or are finding motivation for your next chapter, I carry each story with attentiveness, knowing that healing is about what sticks with you and how you decide to move forward. My education and training includes Motivational Interviewing, trauma-informed parenting, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), adolescent mental health and substance use, gender and sexuality, suicide prevention and postvention, and dating/domestic violence.