Teen Girls and Anxiety
Teenage years are a time of rapid and exponential growth. During this time, teens are figuring out independence and self-agency, time management, platonic and romantic relationships, where their place is in the world, self-discovering who they are and want to become, all while their hormones are charging their developing minds. It’s developmentally and inherently normal for teens to want to “fit in” and avoid being “different”, meaning that they may not feel comfortable with discussing what they are internally struggling with. Teens are somewhat at a crossroads of their developmental journey where they are no longer a child, yet they are not yet an adult who is fully responsible for themselves or their actions. At this point is when parents often find themselves struggling with effective communication with their teen, especially when a teen is experiencing anxiety. Finding a balance between comfort, support, and action is critical in being able to manifest healthy pathways of communication, while also being cognizant of how parental fears and anxieties may be barriers to such communication.
3 Techniques For Connection
In order to avoid the possibility of making your teen feel alienated during interactions with you, there are three main ways to encourage active listening and effective communication between you and your teen.
- Empathy: Your teen wants to be independent, yet is searching for validation and understanding from you as their parent; putting yourself in their situation will allow you to empathize with them. Acknowledging what they’re telling you through the use of the language that they are using shows that you are actively listening, and promotes their feelings of being understood. It may be possible that your teen isn’t looking for advice at that moment, so it’s important to show empathy during this time and ask whether they want advice, are seeking support, or are simply looking for you to listen. Practicing this may prevent further miscommunication or feelings of alienation by allowing them the capacity to independently work through their feelings, while still feeling validated, understood, and supported.
- Relate: Your teen may be more likely to feel understood if you share similar experiences, or reinforce that you experienced similar issues at their age. Teens usually see adults as people who could “never understand” what they are experiencing, often forgetting that you, too, were once their age. By sharing your own challenges with insecurity or anxiety at their age (or even presently), you not only humanize yourself and open up doors for further communication, but you also help to reassure them that feelings of anxiety are entirely normal for anyone to experience.
- Ask: Do regular check-ins with your teen about their symptoms of anxiety and about their well-being. Keep your conversations with them open and open-ended; avoiding leading questions will help to avoid the cycle of anxiety. If you’re alarmed by what they’re telling you, maintain your composure by staying calm. Taking the time to process what they’ve told you before emotionally reacting and expressing your thoughts will allow you the opportunity to figure out how to best approach the situation while giving them the feeling of nonjudgement. It’s important for them to know that while you may be concerned, you will find solutions together and you are there to support them rather than judge them.
Another critical concept to keep in mind is that validation does not always mean agreeing with your teen, meaning that while you shouldn’t belittle their feelings, you also shouldn’t amplify them. Listen to be empathetic, while focusing on helping them to understand what they’re anxious about.
Management of Anxiety
One thing to bear in mind is that your goal should not be to eliminate anxiety, rather it should be to help your teen manage it. Helping them to identify and function with triggers/stressors, while also discovering healthy coping mechanisms can promote a reduction in anxiety over time and inhibit the cycle of anxiety. Encourage your teen to face their fears with the understanding that you are supportive of them, without reinforcing their fears through your tone of voice and body language that may be based on your own personal anxieties. In that, try to model healthy ways of handling anxiety. Children and teens are incredibly perceptive, by allowing them to see how you cope with and manage it calmly, as well as how you feel good about working through it, it encourages them to be more accepting of their own anxieties. If communication is still difficult, or their anxiety seems unmanageable, there is always the option of seeking professional help. Therapists who specialize in treating anxiety can not only help manage your teen’s emotions but may also help to bridge the parent-child communication gap. Speak with your teen ahead of time about your concerns, and why therapy may help them. It’s not unknown that there tends to be stigmatization in circles seeking therapy, so help to destigmatize seeking help through the reassuring fact that many teens do indeed work with therapists. They may be more open-minded about the experience in general, and may also maintain a more open-minded approach to how they view themselves.