Mom and Dad…Calm Down
The Effect Anxious Parents Have on Teens
David R Smith
Almost every researcher agrees: today’s kids are experiencing rampant levels of anxiety. In fact, studies show that roughly 32% of kids between the ages of 13 and 18 will experience some sort of anxiety disorder. That means millions of kids will be overly stressed during some of the most turbulent years of their lives.
Interestingly, the experts also agree on the main sources of all that stress. Some of the anxiety is due to rising expectations in academic performance. The growing demands have even begun to affect summer plans as kids try to decide whether to rest or try to get ahead on college prep.
But the anxiety can also be triggered by threats of bullying and other forms of outright violence such as school shootings. With class back in session, every kid has been drilled on what to do if there’s a bully – or an active shooter – on their campus. No one’s immune; our son’s private Christian school received a bomb threat on the fourth day of classes this semester.
And of course, the ever-present lure of social media is also contributing to the rise in anxiety (and depression) among teenagers. In fact, earlier this week, The Journal of American Medical Association Psychiatry released a study that claimed “teenagers who spend more than three hours a day on social media are more likely to develop mental health problems including depression, anxiety, aggression, and antisocial behavior.” So, just how many teenagers spend three hours per day on social media? A lot of them!
But…the most ironic source of anxiety, according to Dr. Samantha Rodman, a clinical psychologist practicing in the D.C. area, just might be anxiety-prone parents. Moms and dads who suffer from generalized or social anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD, obsessive compulsive disorder, or something similar, may be negatively influencing their kids without even knowing it.
“It’s extremely difficult on a child to grow up with an anxious parent, and even harder if both parents, and sometimes extended family as well, is anxious,” writes Dr. Rodman. “Anxiety is a disorder characterized by constriction — it keeps people from living full and free lives, and often encourages ‘worst case scenario’ thinking.” Anxiety can certainly hinder the person suffering from it, but it can also hinder the lives around that person.
As parents, we want to help our kids learn to live free of anxiety, not unintentionally reinforce anxiety. So what can we do to make sure we handle stresses and anxieties in positive ways?
- Be self-aware. Many parents who are prone to anxiety may not know their susceptibility. It might benefit you (and your kids) to take a look in the mirror to learn your own soul. Here are some quick questions to get you going:
- Have your fears somehow become your kids’ fears?
- How do your kids see you handle setbacks and struggles?
- What lessons are you consciously – and unconsciously – teaching your kids about relationships, finances, etc.?
- Are you more proactive…or reactive?
- Do you take the time to show your kids how to overcome anxiety in their lives?
- Get perspective – and keep it! None of us are immune to the difficulties of life, me included. I have a demanding job. I have a family to lead. I’m getting older. And my favorite college football team just lost their starting quarterback for the season! Yep, life can be tough at times. In those moments when I’m tempted to throw a pity party, I turn to trusted friends. Fortunately, I’ve got a ton of them! One particular family in my church helps me above all others. They’re a single income family. One daughter suffers from severe autism while the other daughter has a debilitating physical disease. Oh, and mom sometimes has seizures. Their problems make many wonder how they make it through a single day…let alone, life itself. Yet, if you ask them, they will tell you about their immense blessings. These friends, and others, help keep me between the navigational buoys of life.
- Obey Jesus. In the last ten verses of Matthew 6, Jesus says three separate times, “Do not be anxious.” Why did He repeat that command so often in such a few verses? Besides wanting us to obey, He knew it was good for us. He asks a superb rhetorical question within these commands: Can being anxious add a single hour to your life? Of course not! So Jesus says we should just skip anxiety. I know that’s easier said than done, but anytime we obey Jesus our lives become a little more blessed. Listen to Jesus and then obey Him; He loves you more than any other.
As you employ healthy strategies to deal with stress, you’ll discover your own anxiety beginning to recede. Consider sharing your tips and tricks with your kids. That way, they can learn to overcome anxiety before it consumes them.
David R. Smith
David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.