Teens and tweens are growing up in a 24/7 world where social media, school and peer pressure, exposure to world news and violence never stops.
Kids today are experiencing more anxiety than their parents grew up with. Their world is a swirling place filled with increasing stress, fear and pressure.
These are perfectly normal human feelings, but when worry and fear don’t go away and interfere with school and daily life, look more closely. Living in a constantly anxious cycle without healthy coping tools is not healthy.
Is anxiety something new that wasn’t around back in the day when we were growing? Of course not. But it had no name and was surrounded by lots of shame. Instead, people were labeled nervous, weird, hormonal, dramatic, PMSing, and other totally non-helpful terms.
We’re moving away from that “shh, don’t talk about it” mentality of the past, although we have a long way to go. By acknowledging it, we can help children find ways to minimize and deal with anxiety.
Genetics and environment both play parts in anxiety. What rolls off someone’s back may be unbearable for another. Every person has their own individual stressors and coping mechanisms.
Let’s look at a few of the many factors causing stress and anxiety
We live in a goal-focused society, which can override the importance of childhood as a journey, and part of the natural process of becoming adults.
A few decades ago, we had SAT prep books (that maybe we did or maybe we didn’t study from), got a good night’s rest and gave it our best on testing day. Without tutoring.
It’s a different world today.
Competing for grades, AP classes, getting into top schools, PSAT and SAT classes, tutoring to get an edge, winning scholarships, class rank, and extracurricular activities creates a dog-eat-dog environment. On top of this is an oppressing amount of student loan debt that will take years or decades to pay off.
Social pressure and social media
So many places, so little time! Staying connected is a necessity by today’s typical teen. They’re attached to their phones day and night.
Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, What’s App, Kik, Askfm,
Tumblr and Pinterest are some of the hottest teen social media accounts.
How do kids keep up with the non-stop barrage of information sharing? There’s a relentless pressure to stay up-to-date with peers. Wanting to be part of the crowd is not new, but the social media tools that run 24/7 and create intense pressure to stay in the loop.
Bullying via social media or IRL (in real life) is real. Turning off the phone may seem like a simple fix, but the pressure of wondering what’s going on, what’s being said, FOMO (fear of missing out) creates stress.
When I was bullied in 7th grade, I was terrified. But as long as I made it out of the building and on to the school bus, I knew I was safe until the next day. It still totally, completely stressed me out even though my parents made sure that it quickly ended (thanks Mom, thanks Dad!). I can’t imagine how scary it would’ve been to be carrying around a phone that could blow up with threats, messages or innuendos at any time.
Social media creates performance pressure. Selfies and pictures of every little and big moment make teens keenly aware of how they look. Oh, ugh. I remember being that awkward 16-year-old kid with braces at Homecoming. Thankfully, there are only a few pictures.
Promposal pressure, anyone? March 11 is National Promposal Day. Really? Really! In 2015, the average family spent $324 on promposal alone, according to Visa. There’s a boatload of pressure to come up with an impressive invitation. So is the pressure for the person being asked. It’s expected that they will say yes if someone went to ‘all the trouble’ of a creative ask. That’s not healthy.
Parents add to their kids stress, often without even realizing it.
For anyone raising teens, this is no surprise: parents are probably the #1 source of teen embarrassment. Be more conscious about what you share about your family on social media by asking: how would I feel if someone shared this about me online for the world to see?
Parents inadvertently end up sharing information every day online that makes kids uncomfortable. Whether it’s talking about the first fender bender or celebrating school accomplishments, not every kid is okay with sharing that their victories and disappointments with the world.
Let’s celebrate the gifts that children bring to the world by encouraging them to follow their interests and do their personal best, rather than pushing them to conform to their parents ideas of success.
Exposure to violence and sadness is an every day part of life
News is harsh, with few filters. Brutal and graphic incidents show up in everyone’s news feeds making it hard to avoid.
School shootings are way too common. There was one school shooting every eight school days in 2018 (source: BBC.com: 2018 'worst year for school shootings'). Add to this the regularly scheduled lockdowns, active fighter drills and news coverage, and there’s no wonder about why anxiety is on the rise when it comes to personal safety at school, the mall, in house of worship, an emergency room or anyplace that we have always expected to be safe.
Shootings and violence are very real, and magnified by the impact of 24/7 news coverage saturation.
For more on how to help yourself and your kids deal with the stress about the reality of school shootings, read my blog The New Parenting 101: School Shootings.
How can we help our kids to handle stress and anxiety?
1. Get help
Let’s get rid of the stigma around mental health care. Not all anxiety requires mental health care, of course. But if it’s stopping your kid from functioning and interacting in healthy ways, then it’s time to seek treatment. Undiagnosed health reasons (autoimmune disease, allergies, nutritional deficiencies) and brain chemistry often play a part in anxiety.
Think of treating anxiety disorders like getting medical treatment for a broken leg or strep throat.
2. Encourage creativity and free time to chill out and build resilience
Carve out time for hobbies like painting, playing an instrument for sheer enjoyment, reading, drawing or writing, taking on a new physical activity, learning to meditate. Downtime without pressure to perform for a sports letter, a trophy or recognition gives people space to connect to their own inner sense of purpose.
3. Get moving!
Encourage them to find a physical activity that’s enjoyable for the sake of enjoyment. Bike riding, hiking, and non-competitive activities that connect them to themselves and/or get them out in nature are stress reducing.
4. Focus on family connection
Become mindful of the time you have together.
Agree to put phones aside for certain parts of the day, especially mealtime.
Give each other the gift of undivided attention. Notice how often you check your phone, and set the example.
Try spending more time unplugged together. Be prepared for them to balk at first. You’ll be surprised at how refreshing it is to leave the phone and the rat race of endless messaging behind if only for a few minutes. Remember it takes 21 times to create a habit, so stick with this.
5. Listen to verbal and nonverbal cues
What’s your child saying, with both words and actions? When talking to your teen, really listen. Listen with your eyes, ears and gut. Let your child know that you’re there for them. If there’s a situation that requires help (medical, mental health, police, school, etc.), go over options and even if you’re the one initiating help, do it in an empowering way.
Today’s teens are facing both wonderful opportunities and sometimes overwhelming stressors that are magnified in our busy 24/7 world that has fewer and fewer filters.
We can be there to help them navigate the world by creating open dialogues, supportive relationships and an understanding of what’s happening in their world. You may not have the answers. But you have the love and commitment to learn how to help them to get the resources and self-help that will help them live in today’s stressful world.
It’s not your job to fix the world for your kids. But you can be there to love them unconditionally, believe in them, and help them access and learn the tools to lessen their anxiety for today and for their future.
Are you stressed out about how to help your kids handle their stress? You’re not alone! Allow me to help you be the most confident parent you can be. Please send me a message at email@example.com and let me know what’s keeping you up at night.
Denise Fountain is a Life Transformation Coach and Certified Professional Coach. She works with women going through transitions to rediscover themselves and create lives that are happy, healthy and whole again. Together with her clients, she explores the connection between stress, health and happiness, and guides her clients to move forward to make lasting and sustainable changes.
Denise is passionate about helping women live their best lives. Denise provides coaching for clients living anywhere by phone or Skype, and is available for speaking engagements and workshops. Sign up for updates. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how Denise can partner with you to create the life you dream of.