Teaching your teens healthy coping mechanisms to manage anxiety is an integral part of raising a well-rounded young person. But when we, as parents, are already juggling so much in our own lives—the bills, the house, a mortgage, etc.–it can be hard to truly appreciate the gravity of the changes your child is going through. After all, school work and social drama are not really that important in the grand scheme of life.
However, your teen doesn’t see it that way, and it is important that you set them on the right path for managing stress and anxiety in healthy, constructive ways. Anxiety is very common, and anxiety disorders are increasingly diagnosed in young adults. Nearly 32% of adolescents have an anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Health.
It is important to note that there are differences between normal anxiety that we share as humans and diagnosable anxiety disorders. Some of these differences are more subtle. It is important to know the distinguishing factors between the two, so that if your child’s anxiety ever crosses over into the realm of disordered thinking you can enroll them in a program for teen anxiety treatment before the situation escalates.
For our purposes, we will be concentrating on developing coping mechanisms for everyday anxiety that does not qualify as a diagnosable disorder. If your teen experiences anxiety before entering new situations, public speaking, or during conflict in social situations at school, your child is likely just experiencing normal anxiety. It is still vital that you give your teens the proper tools to cope with anxiety.
Part of giving your child that proper toolbox for dealing with everyday anxiety is to first set up a strong communication network between the two of you. Teens are going through the most difficult and strange period a human will ever experience, toeing the line between childhood and a newfound independence.
Maintaining a healthy relationship will depend on your ability to create a safe space for your child to grow and speak with you without pushing them to do so. Remember that you can’t–and shouldn’t–force your child to share their emotions. The best thing you can do is subtly remind them that you are trustworthy and sympathetic.
And the best way to do this is to start bonding! Teens are likely to want to spend minimal time with their parents, but you can still find small ways to nurture your relationship. On a rare winter day, let them play hooky from school and go make a goofy snowman together. Let them choose the music on a long drive. Take them to a movie on a school night. Ask them to accompany you on a walk with the dog. These little things will add up for a big payoff.
Encouraging Safe Spaces Outside the Home
There is only so much your teen is going to be willing to share with you, but that doesn’t mean they should not be encouraged to share with others. It is important that you encourage healthy and mature relationships with people your teen can confide in, whether it is trustworthy friends their own age, a school counselor or teacher, or even a therapist you hire.
Sometimes, it is another parental figure or an aunt, uncle, grandparent—the point is to not take it personally that your teen chooses to open up to someone (or anyone) else. The goal is that they are sharing their feelings with someone in a position to give them mature and reasoned advice that your teen will respect.
Creative Outlets and Exercise
You should have been encouraging your child’s creative or physical expression the entirety of their young life, but it is never too late to start! If your teen has not yet found a niche for themselves, or is hedging around a couple, make it known that you are willing to support them in whatever way you can.
Some sports and activities are more financially inhibitive than others, however, so you should be up front with your teen about what you can and can’t afford in terms of extracurricular activities. Usually, however, sports and activities conducted through your child’s school shouldn’t come to more than around $300 annually. This can still be a steep price to pay for some households.
That said, consider this price tag in comparison with the medical bills associated with treating a burgeoning anxiety disorder. On a more optimistic note, your child’s hobby or extracurricular activity could be the thing that earns them scholarships and grants to attend college at a reduced cost down the line. Additionally, your teen’s self-esteem will greatly improve, as well as their overall mood.