As a parent or guardian, you naturally want your child to navigate life without being burdened by major concerns. A bit of apprehension about crossing busy streets or a healthy caution towards online strangers is normal. However, witnessing your child grapple with more significant fears can be challenging. In today’s world, teenagers often face anxiety-inducing events, such as the loss of a favorite celebrity, concerns about climate change, or the unsettling prospect of a potential conflict with North Korea.

Understanding teenage anxiety is crucial, and Pinardin recently had a conversation with Dr. Paula A. Freedman, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Director of Training at Interaction Dynamics, to shed light on the matter. Dr. Freedman emphasizes the importance of highlighting stable and consistent aspects of a child’s life during uncertain times. Even with disruptions caused by current events, there are constants that can help your child feel grounded. For instance, while they might not attend school due to social distancing, maintaining daily family dinners and regular chores can provide stability.

Addressing your child’s anxiety requires thoughtful support. Here are some suggestions to help them find peace:

Recognizing Signs of Anxiety in Teens and Tweens

Expressing anxieties verbally isn’t always easy, regardless of age. For teens and tweens, articulating their feelings can be particularly challenging. Hence, it’s crucial to pay attention to changes in their behavior. If your child is affected by news coverage of a natural disaster, they may not directly communicate their worries. Instead, they might complain of physical symptoms like stomach aches, headaches, or nausea. Changes in sleep patterns or appetite may also signal anxiety. Keep an eye out for anything unusual, as it could be an indication of your child’s emotional struggle.

Teens and tweens sometimes resort to humor as a coping mechanism when they can’t verbalize their anxiety. It’s important for parents and guardians to recognize humor as a strategy for handling difficult situations. If you notice your child making jokes about a serious news event, take the opportunity to check in with them and provide a space for them to express their true feelings.

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Before delving into a conversation with your child about the sources of their anxiety, take a moment to check in with yourself emotionally. Dr. Freedman recommends engaging in some journaling, connecting with your support system, and staying informed about current events without succumbing to panic. Ensuring your own mental well-being puts you in a better position to support your child effectively. When you feel grounded, initiate the conversation with your child.

Consider how your child absorbs information about current events. If the primary election discussions are looming, understand their online habits. Do they enjoy watching dance videos on TikTok or frequent Reddit threads? Instead of outright banning social media, be prepared to discuss where they encounter upsetting content.

Initiating the Conversation

After attending to your own mental health and planning your approach, sit down with your child to discuss their feelings. Rather than dismissing their concerns, acknowledge that it’s okay to feel anxious. Dr. Freedman suggests reframing anxiety as a natural emotion, emphasizing the importance of coping mechanisms. Sharing your own worries can make them feel less isolated.

Having validated their emotions, provide accurate information about the situation causing distress. Holly Korbey, a civics education expert, emphasizes the importance of talking to kids about facts. For example, if your teen is worried about a climate change statistic, share information from reputable sources. Knowledge can empower them and alleviate fear.

Strategies to Ease Teenage Anxiety

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After addressing the cause of their anxiety, collaboratively identify strategies to reduce stress. Recognize that each child is unique, and their self-care methods will vary. Encourage them to reach out whenever they feel upset about current events. Dr. Freedman recommends establishing a daily check-in to allow them to express their feelings, ask questions, or research worrisome topics together.

This is an opportune moment to brainstorm practical ways to address your child’s anxious thoughts. Discuss the possibility of creating a “worry box” for storing anxieties, incorporating mindfulness or meditation into their routine, or exploring artistic outlets. Having a repertoire of strategies in place enables your child to recognize and address anxious thoughts early on, preventing them from escalating.