As if being a teenager isn’t hard enough, add in a bucket of anxiety and it can feel like the world is crashing in around you. As parents, seeing your anxious teenagers struggle can be absolutely heartbreaking. Where did I go wrong? What did I do? How can I help? Is there anything I can do? These are all questions parents of anxious teenagers have. So, we recently reached out to the Denise Lowe, a former teacher turned inspirational and mental health public speaker to shed some light on how she parents her anxious teenagers and what she does to find the right ways and techniques to help, support and cope her daughters through this journey called life.
I know I am not alone when I say that parenting teenagers is tough. Parenting anxious teens can be even tougher. I am a mom of 2 teenage daughters ages 17 and 18. I have to say they are amazing young ladies. But in the early teen years we had our share stressful days. I often wondered; What do I say? How do I say it? How is she feeling today? Am I doing a good enough job as a parent? What could I do better? The doubting and wondering is endless.
My older daughter was diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes at age 6. It was this diagnosis that later lead to her mental health issues; depression, anxiety and anger. Our younger daughter has lived with many fears and anxiety growing up. She is a deep thinker, an over-thinker and most often thinks of the worst case scenarios in any situation. Both girls were brought up in the same household but are two totally different people.
Parenting Anxious Teenagers Simply Requires You to Be Understanding and Compassionate
I learned a lot about depression and mental illness when my older daughter was suffering from a bad case of depression just last year. She couldn’t get herself out of bed in the morning, she was having trouble sleeping at night. She tried explaining to us that she wants to feel better and she wants to get up, but physically couldn’t. It was hard for her to explain and it was hard for us to understand. I didn’t really know what to do at first. We tried different “parenting techniques” thinking it was just a phase or thinking she could “snap out of it”. I tried being tough on her, offered rewards, gave punishments, etc. When really we just needed to be there for her, ask if we could help in any way and just be understanding and compassionate. I realized she was having a hard time understanding what was going on within herself. Thankfully, she was open to seeing a doctor and psychotherapist, which was a good first step for her. I learned as much as I could about depression and mental illness. I wanted to understand what she was going through.
She said, “The best thing was just knowing you were there; not judging, not pressuring, not hounding, just being there.”
An “Anxious Teenager” Isn’t Just a Phase that Will Blow Over
I also wasn’t sure what the right thing was to say to our younger daughter when she would talk about her fears as an anxious teenager. When she was younger, I would brush it to the side like it was just a phase and not take her seriously, something I believe many parents of anxious children and anxious teenagers naturally do. I would say things like “That’s just silly, no one is going to break into your second story bedroom window and take you.” As she got older, I realized this is truly the way she thinks. In fact, she is convinced these otherwise-irrational fears are very plausible. By me saying “Don’t worry, it will be okay”, I was not decreasing her anxiety in any way. Instead, I was only frustrating her more, as she quickly realized ‘Mom doesn’t understand,’ or worse, ‘Mom thinks I’m crazy.’ Remember, these fears are very real to anxiety sufferers.
Parenting Anxious Teenagers Means Educating Yourself So You Can Understand
All of this showed me that I don’t understand what she is going through with her thoughts. Today, when she tells me her fears or her anxious thoughts, I try to be understanding. I try to ask more questions to understand how her thought process works and why she has so many fears. Today, I highly recommend other parents of anxious teenagers to maintain open lines of communication open with their children and/or teens because I’ve seen just how much it has helped my daughters. It took me some time; I had to do research and educate myself on what she was going through just like I did when my older daughter was diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes because the reality is, both of my daughters had an illness, both of which I personally don’t understand or have experience with. As a mom, it was my job to educate myself on their illnesses, whether physically or mental, so I could help them cope, manage and live an amazing, successful, happy and healthy life.
It didn’t take long for me to notice that one of the biggest things my daughters needed was someone to talk to. As soon as I became more understanding and compassionate of their anxiety, the more comfortable they were with their anxiety. The more I accepted what was going on, the better they did as well and this eventually lead to both girls being willing to talk to a counsellor or psychotherapist as well.
If The One Person They Trust Shuts Them Out, They’ll Feel Doomed
I’m going to elaborate on that last paragraph for a second because it’s incredibly important for moms of anxious teenagers to understand that if you overlook or shut down their fears, they will feel doomed. They will feel like there’s no one they can talk to or go to about their problems because the one person they should be able to go to (you, their mom) doesn’t seem to get it.
Now, of course, you’re always there for your kids. You’re always trying to be understanding and loving and compassionate. But dealing with anxious teenagers goes beyond that. You need to actually take the time to learn exactly what’s going on, so you can actually understand. Because remember, ‘If mom doesn’t understand, no one will.’ We were all teenagers once, and we can all relate back to those confusing years where everything seems one way or the other, with no in-between. So, it’s absolutely imperative to show your anxious teenagers that they can come to you about anything.
Final Advice on Parenting Anxious Teenagers
Lastly, just keep loving them. Try to learn as much as you can about what they are going through. Talk to a professional yourself and offer your teen professional help as well. Keep your communication open. Talk about it, don’t ignore it. Validate what they are thinking and feeling and let them know it’s okay to feel that way. Most importantly be there for them. Even just to be an ear for them to vent to, a shoulder for them to cry on, arms to hug. You don’t have to have any answers or any advice. Sometimes by not saying anything at all, and just being present is all they want and need.
Was I a bad parent? Did I do something wrong? Was I overprotective? I could drive myself crazy asking all these questions. It doesn’t really matter. I know in my heart I love them and what matters is that both of our daughters are loving and kind young ladies who each have a heart of gold and willing to help others. Do they have their issues? Absolutely. Who doesn’t? Every decision we make as parents, we make out of love, and we simply try our best. That’s all we can do.
I am thankful I took the time to educate myself on what my anxious teenagers were going through, so that I could help them cope, manage and thrive along the way. It was important for me, as mom, to go through this with them, so they never felt as if they were struggling alone.
Today, they have a strong understanding of what anxiety is and how to handle it. They are not only even willing and open to do what it takes to keep themselves healthy in all aspects, but are also quick to show compassion towards others who are in need of a loving hand. What more could a parent ask for?! Was I late to learn about anxiety in anxious teenagers? Absolutely. However, at the end, we all turned out quite okay!
Need help learning how to parent anxious kids? Sign up for the Kid’s Anxiety Krate.
Looking for tools and methods to help anxious teenagers? The Anxiety Gone Box is the perfect option for you.