Building Strong Families Loving Your Child

Anxiety & Teenagers

by: Helen Gibbs MSW (c), M.A. CYS

Writing exams, moving to a new school, or a job interview are some examples of events that may cause your teenager to be nervous, moody and/or withdrawn.  In those situations, those types of reactions would likely be expected and your teenager often “bounces” back once the stressful event is over.  However, nowadays more and more teenagers are experiencing frequent or daily feelings of anxiety that are impacting on their activities at school, at home, and in the community.  The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto noted that anxiety is the most common form of mental health concerns in adolescents, affecting upwards of 20% of children and adolescents over their lifespan (1). Anxiety may be very evident in your teenager, in that they tell you about all their worries and concerns.  But sometimes anxiety is more hidden and presents itself as school refusal, repeated complaints of feeling ill, sleeping too much or too little, defiance and/or intense moodiness.  Teenagers with anxiety often feel very fearful but can have difficulty identifying the source.   They commonly experience anxiety as feelings of unease and dread in anticipation of an ambiguous event (2).  It is highly recommended that you speak to your family doctor or other health care professional should you notice that your teenager is presenting with some or all these symptoms on a regular basis.

The good news is that anxiety can be successfully managed.

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As a parent, what can you do?

  • All teenagers benefit from having loving, supportive parents.  However, for teenagers with anxiety they require parents with a great deal of patience and understanding.  Parenting a teenager with anxiety can be challenging as ‘usual’ teenage behaviours, such as going to school, become areas of intense conflict. 
  • It is important to educate yourself about the symptoms of anxiety and ways to get support.  Joining online parent support groups through Facebook is one resource (e.g. Teenage Depression & Anxiety – Support for Parents group).  
  • If you prefer to connect with others face to face, there are parent support groups in Durham Region and Toronto.  HOPE – Helping Other Parents Everywhere is one example and more information can be found at

Additional Strategies:

  • Encourage your teenager to open up about worries and fears:  Start by describing a recent situation when you observed some signs of anxiety in your teenager. “

“Yesterday, when Sarah came over to do homework, you seemed very quiet and  you just stared at your phone. It seemed you may have been a bit nervous about having her over. What was that like for you?”

  • Tell your teenager about some things you feared when you were the same age (   especially if you shared the same types of fears) and ask if he or she has any similar worries or fears (e.g. failing an exam, being ostracized from social group).
  • Validate, validate, validate:  When your teenager expresses anxiety or worry, offer reassurance by saying you believe him or her, and that having those feelings is okay. You do not have to come up with the solutions to fix it.  Show acceptance of his/her worry thoughts and anxious feelings. If you stay calm, it will help your teenager to stay calm, too! 
  • Set the exampleBe mindful of the comments you make about your own stress (e.g. “if one more thing happens, I am going to lose my mind”.   Talk to your teenagers about the healthy ways that you manage stress and encourage them to join you (e.g. taking a walk, yoga, deep breathing). 
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Loving your Teen

Teenagers with anxiety benefit from learning strategies to identify, cope and/or conquer their anxiety.  Studies has shown that Cognitive Behaviour, Therapy, Mindfulness, Exercise and a healthy diet can contribute significantly to addressing anxiety (3).  There are also articles, books, websites and apps available on a wide variety of topics related to anxiety. 

A great website for teenagers and parents  Amongst its many resources, is a section specifically geared towards teenagers that uses a variety of methods (e.g. videos, quizzes and games) to get them engaged in learning. 

Cellphones & Apps

Over the past few years, with the increased use of cell phones, several apps have been designed to help people with anxiety. Three are listed here, in no particular order:

  • Mindshift CBT – free App for iOS and Android platforms.  Scientifically proven anxiety solutions based on cognitive behaviour therapy.
  • Headspace – bite-sized, guided meditations designed to fit busy lives. After 10 free guided meditation sessions, sign up for a yearly $7.99 membership
  • SAM – Self-help for Anxiety Management.  Consider SAM your all-in-one diary and practical workbook for managing anxiety. Use SAM to track worrying thoughts and combat them through both physical and mental exercises. An in-app forum also offers a safe space to talk with other SAM users about coping with anxiety.
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Some Helpful Books..

  • Worry Taming for Teens. By E. Jane Garland and Sandra L. Clark (2002). Ideal for children 12-17 years.
  • Helping Your Anxious Teen by Sheila Achar Josephs (Phd) is an excellent resource for parents searching for thoughtful and effective strategies to effectively parent their anxious teen. The book is filled with useful advice and proven-effective techniques parents can use to guide their anxious teen through a critical time in their development.


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