Your Anxiety is Stressing Out Your Teen

Anxiety is Contagious 

The scene in my B Block class was familiar.

That morning had been a killer test in one of LSA’s notorious AP classes. Several of my students had this class—but only a handful had taken the test that morning. The rest would face it that afternoon.

Hysteria spread like a bad case of strep throat. As those students who were fresh from the class recounted the “impossible” questions, their audience of terrified peers listened in growing horror.

“I’m going to fail,” one very bright girl announced.

“We all are,” agreed another with a note of finality.

Just like that, the proclamation was made, and the group believed it. 

This is contagious anxiety. We love to worry, to believe the worst, to ruminate, to dread. Why? Mostly, it makes us feel like we’re doing something. 

But, of course, worry doesn’t help us at all—instead, it clouds the truth. 

Case in point, one bright student who had studied for that test doubted herself. She came to me and whispered, “I need to leave, Mrs. H.”

“You don’t feel well?”

“I need to go home and study.”

I talked with that student about what she was feeling. It was not true that she would fail (she got a 90%). But in the frenzy of anxiety feeding, she forgot the bigger truths about how she had prepared and how she could handle her growing fear.

She could pray. She could pause to remember her own training. She could put the pressure into perspective. She could focus on God’s promises rather than her own worry.

Parents, We Believe Contagious Anxiety Too

Group texts. Social media. A conversation with an alarmist parent. This is the contagious fear we face as parents. This herd anxiety makes us overestimate parenting problems and underestimate our abilities to handle them.

It’s the same problem that happened to those AP students. We come to another parent and passionately explain that the sky is falling. By listening to our fear, that mom’s own fear grows, until she has a whole list of anxieties to share with her kid. Instead of providing logic, peace, and comfort to our teenagers, we’re joining them on their panic rollercoaster.

Try this instead…

When your teen freaks out about something, be the calm and rational one. Imagine they are boarding a roller coaster and will experience the ups and downs of panic, joy, anger, frustration, hopefulness, and shame. As they ride this roller coaster, stay back at the gate, ready to help them understand what they’re feeling. They need your grace and perspective, not your drama and anxiety.

Four Strategies to Help Your Teen Deal with Anxiety …

1. Parents, handle your own fear.

Social media is corrupting out girls. Teen boys are too addicted to games. My kids will never get into the college they want. Teenagers are all depressed and anxious. 

Worry. Fear. Panic. We read this messaging on social media and headlines and then we bring that fear to our own kids. 

But if you want your teenager to stay away from herd anxiety, you need to do the same.

When you hear something that worries you, take time to step back and consider the bigger picture. Pray. Think about what you know to be true. God takes perfect care of you and your kids. Your teenager is maturing on their own timeline. Small storms now aren’t that big of a deal in the big picture. 

2. Don’t rescue your teen when they believe the hype.

The best way to show your high schooler they can handle hard things is to let them do it. So, when your teen freaks out that he can’t run the hurdles or your daughter doesn’t like the way her friend group is treating her, connect instead of solving. Ask questions about how your child feels but don’t rush to solutions. 

Finally, don’t send the message that they are weak by stepping in and fighting their battles for them. Instead, teach them to pray, to remember past successes, and to focus on their strengths, rather than on their anxiety. 

3. And when they do fail? (because they will).

Most importantly, remind your teen to give themselves grace. Grace is a reminder that we are all broken—and we are all forgiven. Instead of expecting perfection from ourselves or each other, we forgive. The freedom to admit we don’t know everything allows for second chances, to learn lessons, and to try again. Your high schooler needs this perspective more than they need your pressure. 

4. Listen to God’s truth.

Bring a worry to social media or to your friends and you’ll get dozens of replies – all with strong opinions and conflicting advice. Who are you supposed to listen to?

In a world of too much information, we need God’s central truth. Without it, we confuse each other. We become the blind leading the blind.

In the Bible, we see how much our Savior loves us. In fact, He loves your teenager more than you ever could. 

God’s Word brings peace, so when you’re anxious or confused, look at where you are listening to humans instead of to Him.

I coach parents as well as teenagers. If you want help managing your anxiety, please reach out to my private coaching practice. You can email me or book an appointment here.

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