How to Help Anxious Teens (without Making It Worse)

Anxiety in teens has been on the rise, affecting up to 30 percent of adolescents across the nation. While it’s not clear if teens are indeed more anxious than in the past, or if they’re simply more willing to talk about it, the results are the same. Many teens are afflicted with anxiety. If you think you may have an anxious teen, here are some ways you can help. 

Know the Signs 

Changes in behavior and attitudes can signal teen anxiety. Anxious teens may:

  • Withdraw from activities they used to enjoy
  • Experience a dip in grades and social commitments
  • Be on edge, irritable or easily fatigued
  • Have difficulty concentrating or sleeping
  • Worry excessively; sometimes all day, every day

Don’t Coddle, but Don’t Push

Successfully coping with teen anxiety is a balancing act. You don’t want to fuel the anxiety by adapting your teen’s life to totally avoid their anxiety, but you don’t want to push them to face fears they’re not ready to face, either.

Coddling involves things like letting them home-school if they’re anxious about going to school, or driving them anywhere, any time if they’re anxious about studying for their driver’s test. Pushing your teen to “just get over it” is another no-no that can only make things worse.

Your best bet is to find the balance by giving your anxious teen coping techniques that can help them get through their anxiety in their own time.

Focus on How to Help, Not Why It Exists

Asking “why” is futile in certain situations, and one of those may be why your teen is riddled with anxiety. Don’t try to search for some source of past or current trauma. Some children are simply born with the predisposition to be anxious, and that anxiety can arise when they’re toddlers, adolescents or teens.

Teen anxiety is more often based on irrational fears than actual experiences, according to child therapist Natasha Daniels. Anxiety also has a genetic basis and frequently runs in families. Give up on the “why” and instead focus on the “how,” or how you can help your anxious teen. 

Introduce Techniques, but Don’t Take the Wheel

Giving your anxious teen a toolbox full of coping mechanisms can be immensely helpful, as long as you remember your teen is the one who has to take the journey through anxiety. As much as you may want to fix the anxiety for them, this is something teens must do for themselves.

Coping techniques can include:

  • Identifying anxiety triggers so they’re aware of what stirs up the anxiety
  • Coping techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation and mindfulness
  • Creating a series of small goals your teen can achieve to build confidence and face their fears

One more helpful hint when helping a teen deal with anxiety is to keep your own demeanor calm and balanced. Let your anxious teen know you’re there to listen to any fears, worry or concerns they may have, gently pointing out a few things they can do to help them get through them.