Teens and Anxiety

What do parents really want for their children? 

Most would say “a happy, healthy, well-balanced life”.  But are the kids getting the message?  When researchers asked teenagers what their parents wanted for them, they said “get good grades, go to college, get a well-paying job.”

Even before the pandemic, surveys noted a rise in stress, anxiety and depression and substance abuse especially in “high achieving schools” where the pressure to excel in a wide variety of academic and non-academic activities seems to be increasing year-by-year.  A recent article in the New York Times looks at what’s causing teens to struggle in academic life, pandemic or no pandemic.

Here at this blog, we look at ways people can “surf” their moods, especially those moods that cause problems in their lives.  But why shouldn’t we also be looking at ways to reduce the pressure that drives people into negative moods?  Families should be places where children know they are loved and gain support in fulfilling their own interests and potentials, not a place where they are driven to excel in fields that hold no interest for them or make them feel burdened.

Sure, parents themselves feel more burdened, more anxious and more fearful of the future in these troubled times.  But as parents, we have to be careful not to offload our anxiety onto children and adolescents, who are usually even more susceptible to worry about conditions beyond their control.

Define success broadly

It appears that parents may unconsciously direct a negative feedback loop by praising children when they do well in school.  This sends the message that they have to do well to keep getting the praise.  Maybe we can be conscious of giving praise and encouragement for the kinds of behaviors that we’d like to see in our children, like getting enough sleep and exercise, playing outside just for fun, and going out of their way to help others they know who need an extra hand sometimes.  Such positive feedback on areas of life other than academic achievement can have a great effect in building up positive, resilient youth ready to face whatever the future sends.