Aiding an Anxious Teen

I am absolutely not a professional on panic, but I have felt it, faced it, and fought it. As a high school teacher with teenage siblings and a history of anxiety, I have spent a lot of time tackling this tough subject.

Moving from a teenager into adulthood, the presence of panic has become evident all around me: sending students to the nurse because their stomach hurts and they can’t breathe, coaching athletes through performance-related panic attacks, and hearing youth-aged girls casually claim they’re always anxious. More often than not, teens are facing these overwhelming and overcoming feelings…and we either don’t know how to respond, are oblivious to the reality, or excuse the issue due to general stress or hormones.

I am absolutely NOT a counselor, psychologist, or researcher, just someone who attempts to faithfully allow God to fight my anxious battles. Through talking to students and turning to the Bible for truth, I find three main reasons teens fight anxiety:

  • They are looking for their identity.
    Teens are at a turning point, facing questions about their friends and future, morals and missions, and identity and eternity. They are seeking a sense of self from social media and school. If not found there, some dig deeper into sinful habits and altered behavior, while others look to to achievements and recognition. Unfortunately, when they don’t find what or who they are looking for, they panic in uncertainty.
  • They have loosely set boundaries.
    As our teens go scrolling and searching, they are overloaded, overwhelmed, and overworked.
    On social media, their minds are filled with expectations and flooded with over-connection. Constant notifications lead to questions of:
    -How do I respond?
    -What do they really mean?
    -Why can’t I have that/look like that/be like them?
    -Why don’t I have that many likes?
    -How do I get more friends?
    Phony connections leave our kids feeling insecure and caught in comparison, and many have endless access to the internet, without guidelines or restrictions.In school, their plates are piled sky-high with school work, extracurricular activities, and parent-expectations, all while juggling social lives and striving for success. They are rushed to build an impressive resume that represents who they are. As they seek to do the most and be the best, failure becomes foreign, resulting in irrational thinking and uncontrollable emotion. They have no limits on commitments and in the end are exhausted and anxious.
  • They lack a godly community.
    On top of independently battling identity without boundaries, teens lack encouragement and empathy. They either have friends who ignore the issue or contribute to the constant concern. Our teens need friends who will guide them with godly wisdom, instead of adding pressure to fit in or act out. 

This issue is obvious.
So, what is our role?
How do we responsibly respond and render aid to our anxious teens?

  1. Listen.
    Our teens need to feel heard. Too often we are too busy with our own pile of worries and responsibilities that we brush off their burdens.  Offering advice can wait, simply acknowledge their anxiety and attempt to understand their feelings.
    I still remember my Mom spending many sleepless nights at my bedside during my teenage years. She would sit as I suffered in stress, hysterical and unable to see the hope she offered. As I cried in anxiety over grades, friends, or my uncertain future, she sat soothing me until I slept. Give that woman a hug or high-five, y’all!
  2. Influence their identity.
    We don’t need to tell our teens who to be, but we need to move them in the direction of their Maker. They have to know their Creator in order to know who they were created to be. Constantly speak to their character as Christ would. Remind them that they are loved, called, equipped, and wonderfully made.Here are a few verses to start speaking to your student:

    Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart
    Jeremiah 1:5

    Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
    John 1:12

    For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

    Ephesians 2:10

  3. Make and model margin.
    As a parent, mentor, or friend, we have to put our phones down and ask them to do the same. Offer other opportunities for the communication and connection they crave. Make dinner a time to dive in and divulge the day’s highs and lows, have a movie night at home, or step away from the screens for an outdoor activity.  He says, “Be still, and know that I am God. Psalms 46:10 confirms our command to stop, rest, and seek. Break from the busy schedule to refresh intentionally and in front of your kids in the morning or evening. They need to see what stillness, security, and certainty in the Savior looks like.
  4. Create connection opportunities. 
    The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray. 
    Proverbs 12:26He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harms.
    Proverbs 13:20

    Proverbs puts it plainly that our friends influence our lives. We need to provide teens with time to connect personally and purely and help guard their relationships. Open your home to a few giggly girls or stinky guys to ensure their environment is suitable for the least stress. Get them excited about church events or school activities. We have to do whatever it takes to supply students with godly friends and personal connections that reach deeper than social media.

  5. Pray.
    The last and most important power we have over their panic is prayer. We have to be true models of Philippians 4:6: Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
    How hypocritical is it it to preach peace but panic about our teens?
    Make it a priority to cover teens, their friends, and their environment in prayer. Thank God for their heart and claim calmness and contentment over their lives. Ask God to free them from their anxieties in His name and for His glory.I hope this helps for when you feel helpless. Anxiety is hard to understand and even harder to help. Above all, we have to seek God’s guidance and grace as we guide  teens through their storm of stress.

 

 

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