What teens worry about ..
- It’s normal for teenagers to worry about issues like stress, schoolwork and body image.
- Not all teenage issues and worries need professional help.
- Sometimes worries won’t go away, get worse or interfere with daily life. This might be a sign your child needs professional help.
The teenage years are a time of rapid growth and change, physically, mentally and socially. For some teenagers, change can be scary, whereas others take it in their stride.
Also, teenagers often have to make early decisions about school subjects, study, careers and work. In fact, many teenagers feel that their secondary school marks decide their whole future – that’s a lot of pressure.
If you add economic change, job security, globalisation and mental health to the usual teenage issues, it’s not surprising that your child sometimes feels quite worried.
It’s normal for teenagers to have worries and fears. Treating every worry as a big problem can do more harm than good. If you do, your child might start to see the world as unsafe and dangerous. Not all worries need professional help.
Signs of anxiety
When worries won’t go away, get worse or interfere with your child’s daily life, this could be a sign that your child is struggling with anxiety.
Here are some signs that your child might need some help with anxiety:
- Worries that won’t go away: this is when your child is feeling ‘on edge’ or ‘wound up’ most of the time, is generally worried about a lot of things for no clear reason, or can’t relax.
- Worries that get worse over time: this is when your child avoids situations or people, feels panicky in some situations, has bad thoughts that are hard to control, or has physical symptoms like increased sweating, fast heartbeat, headaches, stomach cramps, nausea, rapid breathing or diarrhoea.
- Worries that interfere with daily life: this is when your child stops being able to do things that he used to do because of fear and anxiety, or you feel that your child’s reactions are stopping him from enjoying everyday things.
Signs of depression
It’s normal for young people to go through ups and downs. But if your child feels angry, guilty, sad or cranky more than usual, she could be suffering from depression.
Your child might need help with depression if he’s behaving in the following ways for most of the time or for more than two weeks. Your child:
- feels like giving up a lot of the time
- has significant and regular trouble sleeping
- is regularly behaving in ways that aren’t like him – for example, he’s getting into trouble, having difficulty with schoolwork, isolating himself or fighting.
Depression probably won’t go away by itself, and it’s a good idea to seek professional help. You and your child could start by talking to your GP.
Your child needs your support and encouragement for learning, but it probably won’t help if you put extra pressure on her to get high academic results. Sharing her excitement when she tries something new – and being supportive when she doesn’t master it the first time – will encourage her to keep trying.
Managing worrying thoughts is an important life skill. Here are some activities and exercises that your child can use now and in the future.
Managing worrying thoughts
This activity helps your child notice worrying thoughts and stop them getting in the way. But remember worry and stress is normal and helps to keep us motivated. Try to be supportive, thoughtful and warm while you help your child manage his thinking:
- If a particular event is very worrying for your child, first get her to say or write down a few thoughts about the event. For example, ‘I’m going to fail the maths exam’, ‘I’m really bad at maths’.
- Talk together about how it’s normal to have thoughts like that. Recognise that the thoughts aren’t very nice or helpful and that they can get worse if your child focuses on them too much.
- Acknowledge the negative thoughts, but don’t let them stop your child from doing what he needs to do. For example, ‘I’m not going to pay attention to those thoughts right now. They’re not going to stop me. I’ve done plenty of preparation for the exam and I can only do my best’.
This exercise needs practice. You can encourage your child to manage her worrying thoughts and get on with what she needs to do by praising her for having a go.
If your child spends too much time thinking about negative events, it can lead to worry and stress. Appreciation, gratitude and positive thinking exercises can get your child in the habit of spending more time thinking about what has gone well and why.
Parenting teenagers can be stressful. You’ll be in good shape to care for your teenage child if you look after yourself. You could also get support from other parents and share ideas and experiences by joining an online or a face-to-face support group.
Your child could write down three things he’s grateful for or that went well in his day. They don’t have to be big things. It might be hearing a bird sing outside, enjoying a sunny day, or spending time with a favourite person or pet. Helping your child notice these small things can increase his happiness and wellbeing.