Anxiety in pre-teens and teenagers
Anxiety is very common in the pre-teen and teenage years.
This is because adolescence is a time of emotional, physical and social change, which is happening at the same time as teenage brains are changing. Teenagers are seeking new experiences and more independence. It’s natural for teenagers to feel anxious about these changes, opportunities and challenges.
For example, teenagers might feel anxious about starting secondary school, looking a particular way, fitting in with friends, performing in plays at school or going to school formals. Also, as their independence increases, teenagers might feel anxious about responsibilities, money and employment.
Anxiety in teenagers isn’t always a bad thing. Feeling anxious can help to keep teenagers safe by getting them to think about the situation they’re in. It can also motivate them to do their best. And it can help them get ready for challenging situations like public speaking or sporting events.
Helping preteens and teenagers manage anxious feelings
Learning to manage anxiety is an important life skill, which you can help your child learn. Here are some ideas.
Encourage your child to talk about anxieties Just talking about the things that make them anxious can reduce the amount of anxiety your child feels. Talking and listening also helps you understand what’s going on for your child. And when you understand, you’re better able to help your child manage anxieties or find solutions to problems.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings Your child’s anxiety is real, even if the thing they feel anxious about is unlikely to happen. This means it’s important to acknowledge your child’s anxiety and tell them you’re confident they can handle it. This is better than telling them not to worry. For example, if your child is anxious about whether they’ll pass an exam, let them know you understand how they feel but you’re sure they’ll do their best.
When you acknowledge your child’s feelings with warmth and compassion, it helps your child to use self-compassion in challenging situations too.
Encourage brave behaviour This involves gently encouraging your child to set small goals for things they feel anxious about. Just avoid pushing your child to face situations they don’t feel ready to face. For example, your child might be anxious about performing in front of others. As a first step, you could suggest your child practises their lines in front of the family.
You can help your child behave bravely by encouraging them to use:
positive self-talk – for example, ‘I can handle this. I’ve been in situations like this before’
self-compassion – for example, ‘It’s OK if I do this differently from other people. This way works for me’
assertiveness – for example, ‘I need some help with this project’.
It’s also good to praise your child for doing something they feel anxious about, no matter how small it is.