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Recognizing Anxiety in Teens

Almost a third of teenagers (age 13-18) had an anxiety disorder according to the National Institute of Mental Health. If it seems like anxiety in teens is on the rise, it’s because it is.  Teens face unprecedented pressure to “succeed,” more adversities in childhood (parental divorce, parental substance abuse issues and other adversities), and an unregulated social media system designed to create addiction.  When compared to raising teens five decades ago, suffice it to say, things have changed drastically. 

Teen Life in the 1970s

My grandmother is ninety-seven years old.  I love the stories she tells about raising four teenagers in the seventies.  Living in Miami, my uncles would take the family boat, and go camping at a local island for days at the time.  There was one phone at the top of the island, and they had to call once a day.  My grandmother’s only rule, “don’t come home dead.” 

Teen Life Today

Fast forward fifty years, and we now know exactly where our teens are at every moment of the day.  We track their devices, we get constant alerts on their grades, and the pendulum of parental control has swung in the far opposite direction from where it once was.  Layer on social media, where teens are constantly “on,” using filters to show their “best” (aka unnatural) face, and ratings systems, which have been linked to increase anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts


It makes me want to throw out every device in my house and go outside and garden for our food.  But I don’t, because social media allows me to connect with family overseas, the internet let me find the research for this article, and through blogging, I’m able to share what I know with you. 

It really is a magical tool. 

The Dark Side of Being Constantly Connected

Teens are growing up with more pressure than ever and less tools on how to regulate their bodies and calm themselves down.  I know far too many teens who reach for a chemical to make them calm rather than discovering ways to move their bodies, such as taking a walk. 

Anxiety in teens manifests itself in a variety of ways: sleep issues, irritability, substance use (vaping, marijuana, alcohol, misuse of prescription drugs), perfectionism, and body image issues.  All equally harmful in their own way.  Each teen who struggles with anxiety copes in different ways, some healthier than others. 

Stress vs. Anxiety

So what’s the difference between stress and anxiety?  Stress is a natural human response to going through life.  A stress response kicks our body into high gear, so we can run from a saber tooth tiger or study for a test  (whatever the case may be).  If we get stuck in the stress response day in and day out however, then the stress chemicals, adrenaline and cortisol, which were only supposed to last in our body for about fifteen minutes circulate all the time and this takes its toll and becomes toxic to the system. 

So how do you, as a parent, know to worry about your teen?  Here are a few signs, your teen may be dealing with more than just stress:

  • Change in behavior (talking more or less than usual)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling on edge or restless
  • Being too tired to engage in typical activities
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty concentrating or feeling their mind is blank

You can wait to address these, if you notice your teen has experienced one or more of these symptoms for more days than not for six months or more (moving them into an anxiety diagnostic criteria), or you can respond sooner and seek out support now. 

The Adolescent Brain

Research shows, the adolescent brain is one of the greatest times of human development outside of the period from birth to age three.  In the teen years, the brain begins to prune itself and remove the information it doesn’t need to focus on what it’s using.  There really is a “use it or lose it” scenario going on inside your teen’s brain. 

What you want wired during this time is interest in their passions, skills in healthy relationships, and learning how to cope with the ups and downs of life.  How valuable might it be for your teen to practice learning to notice any anxious thoughts, learn how to reframe their thinking, in turn creating a ripple effect which interrupts anxiety and leads to peace and calm? 

What if your teen could wire in (create a habit of)…feel anxious, take a breath?  Instead of feel anxious, take a selfie and get likes? 

You know your teen best.  You’ll be able to tell when there’s cause for concern and if your teen needs professional support. 

If so, don’t hesitate to reach out and connect today. 

Help your teen wire in healthy habits now, which will support them in becoming a vibrant, secure adult.  

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