5 Ways Parents Accidentally Increase Anxiety in Teens

Anxiety is very common among teens. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that nearly one in three adolescents (31.9%) meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder. Researchers have found that anxiety in children has increased 20% over 5 years.

Anxiety among teens is clearly on the rise, and there are many factors that have contributed to it. For instance, research has shown that social media is linked to higher anxiety. But, in addition, experts believe that changes in parenting styles over the last few years have also contributed to this increase. While some parenting changes have made improvements, other changes have had negative impacts on our teens. Here are a few common mistakes parents should avoid to prevent increasing anxiety in their children:

Unrealistic praise. In an effort to build our children’s self-esteem, we tend to overpraise our teens. We make claims that are not always true, such as “you’re the smartest kid in your grade.” We generalize our praise, saying “I’m so proud of you,” without giving a cause or reason. We compliment the smallest act rather than saving our praise for true accomplishments. We praise teens for results, instead of the process they took or the progress they made. All of these statements actually place a lot of pressure on teens, rather than creating confidence. If you would like to learn how to praise your teens in a more meaningful way, read our previous blog, Why Parents Should Not Overpraise Their Teens.

Focus on happiness. Our culture has started emphasizing “being happy” in the last few years, and some parents subconsciously believe it’s their job to make their kids happy all the time. We hate when our children are sad or upset, so we try to cheer them up. We feel upset when our children are angry, so we work to calm them down. We are actually taking responsibility for our teen’s feelings, which doesn’t teach them how to cope. Teens begin to feel worried when they don’t feel happy. They need to know that it’s ok to feel sad, frustrated, guilty, disappointed, and angry sometimes, too. You can learn more about this subject in our previous blog, 6 Ways to Teach Teens to Take Responsibility for their Emotions.

Overscheduled. In our efforts to help our teens be successful, sometimes we overstep our bounds as parents. We become like personal assistants to our teens and do whatever it takes to ensure our teens are able to compete. We encourage them to take more advanced courses than they can handle, and then pile extracurricular activities on top. We almost make it our job to help our teens build transcripts that will impress a top college. Or sometimes our teens are the culprit – so interested in pursuing every activity that they overbook themselves and we bend over backwards to let them take on too much. Packed schedules create a lot of anxiety for teens. If you would like to know how to create a more balanced schedule that will allow your teen to thrive, read our previous blog, The Problems of Over-Scheduled Teens.

Overly protective. Somewhere along the line, many of us have come to believe that our role is to help our children grow up with as few emotional and physical scars as possible, instead of preparing them to succeed in adulthood. When we overprotect, our teens never have the opportunity to handle challenges on their own. They begin to view themselves as unable to deal with life’s difficulties, which makes them anxious. Our goal should be to guide our teens towards independent living, instilling valuable coping skills as we go, and letting our teens learn from their mistakes. To learn more about how to parent a teen into adulthood, read our previous blog, Over-involved Parenting Creates Unprepared Young Adults.

Make decisions from guilt. Parenting is tough, and most of us secretly agonize about where we have gone wrong. Guilt can drive parents to give their teens too much freedom, possessions, praise, help – in other words, guilt can cause us to spoil our children or rescue them from every difficulty. When parents are always backing down and giving in, it actually creates anxiety in teens. Although teens give the impression they want to be in charge, they truly want their parents to be leaders. They feel safest when parents establish expectations and firm rules and consistently enforce consequences. If you feel that guilt tends to drive your decisions, please read our previous blog, Avoiding the Parent Guilt Trap.

Final thoughts…

Please know that anxiety is a complicated mental disorder, and there is no single cause. A parent could do everything “right” and still end up with an anxious teenager. However, you will definitely help your teen become more confident and successful in life by fostering resilience. Teach your teen problem-solving skills. Instill a “never give up” attitude. Help your teen identify their emotions. Encourage positive thinking and self-talk. These behaviors will help them throughout their lifetime!

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