She is beautiful, young and born into a middle class, loving, Canadian family. At 14 years old, you would think she had the world by the tail and yet day after day she faces the paralyzing affects of anxiety. Her story is filled with fears for her future and punctuated by a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. I wish I could report that she is an isolated case and yet as I glanced over my calendar last week, I noted that 8 out of the 22 clients that visited my office were teenage girls, just like her.
My question is why?
An article published in Psychology Today reports this on anxiety ‘The increased psychopathology seems to have nothing to do with realistic dangers and uncertainties in the larger world. The changes do not correlate with economic cycles, wars, or any of the other kinds of world events that people often talk about as affecting children’s mental states. Rates of anxiety and depression among children and adolescents were far lower during the Great Depression, during World War II, during the Cold War, and during the turbulent 1960s and early ‘70s than they are today. The changes seem to have much more to do with the way young people view the world than with the way the world actually is.’
How do adolescents see the world?
According to Dr’s Neufeld and Mate in their book ‘Hold On To Your Kids; Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Their Peers’  parents have all but lost their authority over their adolescents, either through negligence or indulgence, leaving them emotionally empty. To fill their emptiness, teenagers bond with their peers, spending long periods of time together in school, after school, texting and using other social media avenues to connect. Our teenagers are not only turning to their peers for companionship and belonging, but they are seeking out their peers for advice on how to solve their problems. As a result, we have children raising children; presenting solutions to problems from an immature, undeveloped and inexperienced view of the world. A perfect setting for anxiety.
My advice to parents?
There are many things to consider when helping your teens work through anxiety. Strong, supportive, available parenting is one of them.
I’ve often contemplated the words recorded in Psalms 127, ‘Children are like arrows in the hand of the warrior’. These were most likely spoken by King Solomon, considered to be one of the wisest men that ever lived. As I understand this verse, the arrow (child) has been safely entrusted into the hands of the warrior (parent). The warrior has the privilege and responsibility (not the school, church, peers or the media) to properly prepare and shape the arrow and direct it toward its intended target. If you have ever shot an arrow, you may recall that there is tremendous strain on the bow (home) especially closest to the time of release (coming into adulthood, a time of great anxiety). The warrior must continue hold the arrow securely within the bow not releasing prematurely or before the target is fully in sight, even though the tension may be great.
Parents, hold on to your teens. Steady them during the anxious teen years. Find time to know them individually. Understand their intentions and potential course of travel. Listen and offer solid but loving (not lecturing) ideas to the problems they are facing. Be a brave warrior, contending for and releasing them safely into their intended destiny.