Our Ever Changing Teens, Part 2
This is the second of a two-part blog on teens and change. Read Part 1.
Noticing the signs of anxiety can go a long way toward helping teens as they navigate their world. These are hard years for families, but they can be harder for parents if you do not know the indicators of an anxious adolescent. They include:
Fears that don’t go away or are irrational. For example they might rush to the conclusion that they have a headache therefore they have a brain tumor.
- Chronic physical pains: headaches, stomachaches, body aches, etc.
- Change in behavior/mood. They may be more irritable or weepy.
- Avoiding activities they used to enjoy.
- Not wanting to go to school or drop in grades.
- Trouble sleeping or paying attention.
- Risky behaviors or substance use.
You don’t want to dismiss their anxiety or say just to get over it or ridicule them for their feelings. For a child experiencing anxiety/panic attacks, what they are feeling is very real.
Your job as the parent is to help them find ways to provide them with a calm environment and get them help if they need it. The most effective methods for handling anxiety are the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and SSRI medications. CBT focuses on changing how a child thinks about his fear. Techniques may include increasing exposure, relaxation strategies and/or positive self-talk. The good news is studies have shown a combination of CBT and medications for 12 weeks yields a positive response in 80% of children and even when just doing CBT alone it helps 60% of children.
What Parents Can Do
- Tell them you understand they truly feel this way and you are here for them and are going to help them work through this.
- Try grounding techniques that work to help the mind to focus on something else, such as counting in for five breaths and exhaling for five breaths, having them focus on a smell in the room or something in the room. For example you might simply tell your child to name three items to their front, right, back and left of them. By encouraging them to focus on other things it may allow them enough time to calm down, refocus and talk things through in a calmer manner with you.
- Try to get them on a positive thought process. For example if they say, “I can’t catch my breath.” You could reply by saying, “Are you talking to me?” They will respond, “Yes!” After this you can then say, “Good, you are talking, therefore you are breathing?” This will often put them on a more positive line of thinking and remind them that everything is OK.
- Encourage them to take deep breaths.
- Other great ideas are: yoga, regular exercise, chores or projects, making sure they have a regular sleep schedule, and use of relaxation apps.
Finally be mindful of your own expectations for your child. Teens are still considered children and need time to relax and play with their friends. We all need opportunities to recharge so don’t forget to allow your teen to do this as well.
The most important thing is to be aware of changes in your child and make sure to get them help when they need it. Above everything a teen needs to know that they are loved and being heard. They need to know that no matter what you are there for them, will always love them and that you are here and will help them get through this.
By Beth Lucht, Family Life Educator, Women’s and Children’s Community Outreach Education, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center,