Last year, the Pew Research Center published a study that had 70% of nearly 1,000 U.S. teenagers (ages 13-17) listing “anxiety and depression” as major problems among their peers. Indeed, today’s teenagers perceive mental health issues as the most troubling concern they face, beating out bullying, drug addiction, poverty and more. It’s frightening news, especially since, according to research published by the American Psychological Association, “the percentage of young Americans experiencing certain types of mental health disorders has risen significantly over the past decade, with no corresponding increase in older adults.”
There’s little doubt that changes to our cultural norms are driving increased teen anxiety. Our growing dependence on digital connectedness, along with our competitiveness, create an environment in which kids are highly informed, yet highly distracted, with little time to relax and unplug. Parents compound the problem as we attempt to give our kids every advantage rather than risk society’s scorn, our children’s disappointment or their own embarrassment. The fact is that most of us live in a constant state of fear, simultaneously scared of trying to measure up and scared of the repercussions if we don’t make the attempt or if we do and then fail. Rather than feed into this relentless cycle, parents can help put a stop to it. Here are three proven ways to help protect your teen from experiencing harmful anxiety:
Get Them Off Their Devices
Electronics offer an escape, and social media applications breed unrealistic expectations. Combined, they do more to expose teens to unhealthy habits than any other current concern. A constant attachment to phones, computers, televisions and other electronic devices allows kids to avoid real social interaction. It provides an easy way for them to dodge normal emotions, thus preventing them from developing natural, healthy responses to them.
Boredom and loneliness are replaced with online chatter, games and shows, and instead of using their minds to think of ways to engage with others or entertain themselves, they are isolated in a fictional reality. Furthermore, social media permits kids the opportunity to expose themselves with little consequence. They are able to create an imaginary world, where they can say hurtful things (intentional or not) and project certain images (literally and figuratively), and there is no way for their audience to verify or clarify their intent. A set limit on device use will help your teen experience emotions in the real world, thus, developing a more healthy response to them and better equipping them to conquer anxiety when they face it.
Schedule Time for Play
You might think your teen is too old to play, but you’re wrong! Research shows that there is a correlation between the decrease in the amount of playtime and the rise of mental health disorders among children. Children, teens included, need unstructured time, not only to relax, but to foster their relationship-building skills, cultivate their creativity, expand their interests and exercise their minds and bodies. All of these skills strengthen their ability to manage stress and help them avoid crippling anxiety and depression.
Although it seems counterintuitive, parents should step back from managing too much of their children’s lives. Too often parents shield their kids from failure, correcting their mistakes and overinflating their accomplishments with the hope that they won’t get hurt or upset. Inadvertently, this type of protection — the excessive hovering and coddling — only sets children up to believe they aren’t strong enough or smart enough or good enough to face things on their own.
When confronted with something truly difficult, a situation in which parents can’t intervene, the pressure to remain “the best” can be debilitating for a lot of kids. Instead, parents should step back and let their kids experience failure at times. It teaches them to be resilient, to have confidence in their abilities and to know that no one emotion lasts forever…even anxiety.
The bottom line is this: unless your teen is googling “eb1 qualifications” for their American government class, get them off their devices. Get them playing and pursuing their interests. Then step back and watch them tackle life head on, emotionally prepared to better handle the anxiety that affects us all.