If Your Adolescent Has an Anxiety Disorder: Some Tips
Last week we introduced you to the Mind Race which was published in conjunction with the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnyland’s Adolescent Mental Health Initiative. This week we will take a look at another book in this series, If Your Adolescent Has An Anxiety Disorder: An Essential Resource for Parents, by Edna B. Foa, Ph.D., and Linda Wasmer Andrews. This book is an indispensable guide for parents which will help them take positive steps toward helping their children lead healthy lives. Below we excerpt some tips from the authors.
Finding professional help for your teen is a major step, but your role doesn’t end there. You make a tremendous difference in your teen’s life by all the things you do every day to sho your love and support. While you’re not responsible for your teen’s anxiety, you can influence it in a positive way.
Three Traps to Avoid
Even parents with the best of intentions sometimes feed their children’s anxiety without realizing it. These are three common errors that well-meaning parents often make.
- Being an anxious role model. If you have social anxiety yourself, you may believe it doesn’t matter. After all, you might think, you don’t have to be self-assured to encourage your teen to be that way. But your teen may do as you do, rather than as you say. If your own social anxiety isn’t under control, you profably avoid social situtuations, have trouble meeting people, or feel awkward trying to carry on a conversation. Your teen might be picking up some of these behaviors from you by imitation. Fortunately, you can turn this situration around by getting help for your own anxiety. That way, you’ll be modeling not only better coping strategies and social skills but also the ability to take charge of your life and make positive changes.
- Reacting critically to your teen’s fears. Maybe you’re normally an understanding person, but your teen’s social anxiety just seems to set you off. You want to feel compassion, but instead you wind up feeling anger or disgust. One possibility is that your teen’s anxiety may be an uncomfortable reminder of part of yourself that you’d rather deny. If that’s the case, finding ways to build your own social confidence may help you not only feel happier with yourself, but also be more accepting toward your teen. If you’re not sure where to start, a therapist or counselor may be able to point you in the right direction.
- Becoming overprotective. Perhaps you go the other extreme. You jump in to “rescue” your teen at the slightest hint og anxiety or distress. Your intention is to protect your teen, but what you’re actually doing is depriving your child of opportunities to face his or her fears. Remind yourself that confronting fears is a vital part of mastering them. Step back a few paces, and allow your teen to take some social risks. You’re not being uncaring. Quite the contrary, you’re giving your teen room to learn and grow.
Set a good example by using these self-help strategies for coping with social situations. Then encourage your teen to try them, too.
- Expose yourself to new social situations. For example, sign up for a fun activity or volunteer to work for a cause you care about.
- Prepare some conversation starters in advance. For example, you might read the newspaper to find interesting stories to talk about.
- Ask others about their hobbies and activities. This communicates your interest while providing a ready-made topic of conversation.
- Invite some neighbors over for dinner. This provides an extended opportunity to socialize and model conversation for your children.