All of us, regardless of age, experience anxiety on a daily basis. Hopefully, as adults, we have learned healthy ways to cope with life’s daily stressors and can identify those times that call for when we need more, i.e. a job loss, relationship problems, a death, an illness, etc. If we’ve prepared well, we have the tools, resources, and supportive people ready and in place when we need them.
Attending high school gives teens ample opportunity, perhaps more than they’d like – on a daily basis – to practice coping skills managing different kinds of anxiety in numerous settings (social, academic, and personal.) While feeling anxiety from a low to moderate level can be unpleasant, it’s also beneficial. It helps teens in the short term: I’m worried about my chemistry test, so I’m going to increase my study time tonight. It’s beneficial in the longer run and helps teens build self-esteem: I’m proving to myself that while I only got a C- on my last test, I put forth extra effort and improved my grade to a C. These examples involve a real event. Anxiety can also involve a perceived event. For example: I perceive my friends don’t like me, so I’ll choose to start engaging with new peers who are more positive. Because anxiety develops from thinking about real or imagined events, almost any situation can set the stage for it to occur. While most children will experience some anxiety related to school and will cope well, some children experience excessive anxiety.
Understanding ‘what’s normal and what’s not’ is not cut and dry. It can vary depending upon your child’s age, temperament, as well as numerous other factors. You are the best person to assess whether your child is having a problem with anxiety or not. While there are many definitions of the word, let’s agree that in this context, anxiety is defined as apprehension or excessive fear about real or imagined circumstances. While the signs of anxiety vary in type and intensity across people and situations, there are some symptoms that tend to be rather consistent. These include problems with thinking (i.e. difficulty with concentration or worrying,) behavior (i.e. withdrawal from others or needing to be with someone all the time,) or physical (i.e. flushing of skin or sleep problems.) Like most medical conditions, it is very difficult to pinpoint one factor that causes an anxiety disorder. Factors that likely contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder include: having a family history of or a genetic predisposition (other family members suffer from anxiety,) experiencing a traumatic event (being bitten by a dog or experiencing a tornado for example,) growing up in an environment where anxiety or nervousness is reinforced or conditioned (i.e. parents are highly anxious,) &/or having a high-strung or nervous temperament. Again, it is a variable mix of many factors that can lead to a development of an anxiety disorder, not one factor individually that would lend to becoming a problem.
If anxious symptoms interfere with your child’s day to day functioning to such a degree that they are no longer able to be successful when attending school, engaging with peers, and in their family relationships, then seeking additional help may be indicated. If the anxiety is not typical for their age, does not seem to be improving, and is causing significant problems in social, personal, or academic functioning, then it is advisable to talk with a professional. If you have questions about your adolescent and anxiety, begin with asking your child in a positive, non-threatening way. Once that dialogue is under way, know there are many resources available and ready to help if and when needed.
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