Why has anxiety become such an integral word in our kids’ vocabulary?
More and more in my office, I am seeing tweens, teens and young adults who describe themselves as anxious. I have children as young as 10 years old ask their parents to bring them in for their “anxiety”. College students are requesting face time sessions for anxiety at a concerning rate. When did our kids become so overwhelmed and stressed that they are using a clinical term for their feelings?
We can definitely thank social media for part of the increased stress and anxiety our kids experience. It is one thing to be “left out” or not thought of by peers, but when they see it in pictures on Instagram or snapchat, it takes the disappointment to a whole new level. And the dreaded “group chat” can be another great source of anxiety; are they included and/or are their texts responded to. These social medias issues span from elementary school through college and beyond.
Stress about grades seems to be at an increasingly high level as well. I see kids in 5th and 6th grade express worry about “what college they will get into”. The SAT/ACT were not tests designed to be studied for. Yet, kids are tutored and drilled and pre-tested and pressured to raise their scores. How about letting our kids get into a school that fits their aptitude and where they can succeed and flourish? Once in college, I see kids scrambling, cramming, and having great difficulty balancing social life and academics.
With young adults, I see increasing anxiety about being undecided about a career choice at the outset of their college journeys. Isn’t it ok and even organic to be unsure of what you want to do with your life when you are 18 years old?
What can we do to help our kids with their anxiety? Encourage a break from social media. When I ask teens and young adults to do an “experiment” and shut down Instagram for a day or two, they invariably feel better emotionally. Helping our kids, teens, and young adults with time management when it comes to balancing schoolwork and social outlets, sports, etc. is also a great anxiety reducer. Encourage them to make lists, use white boards, and calendars; putting to do items into a structured format reduces anxiety and increases a sense of control. Also, discourage “what if” thinking, which is at the core of much anxiety; help them steer away from this kind of thinking. Try asking them, “what if……I am fine”.
When is it time to seek the help of a mental health professional for anxiety? These are some signs to look for:
-Restlessness or being keyed up
-Frequent verbalizations about worry
-Use of alcohol or weed to self-medicate
Stacey Cohen-Meissner, Ph.D.