The recent New York Times article documenting the surge of anxiety in adolescence has been referenced recently by parents seen at the Portsmouth Neuropsychology Center. Many parents echo the frustration and fears of what they see in their own children: school avoidance, meltdowns at home, and increased isolation. Additionally, such parents often experience a sense of desperation regarding how long anxiety will impact their children. “Is this the new normal?” many parents wonder. There are many potential “hot-topic” contributing factors to the experience of anxiety in youth in the modern age (e.g., impact of social media, cyber-bullying, hectic schedules, reduced sleep). Furthermore, the experience of chronic anxiety frequently leads to co-occurring depressive symptoms, which can also amplify recurrent negative self-talk (e.g., “If I fail this test I’ll never make it to college”), ruminative thinking (e.g., recurrent thoughts focused on one’s weaknesses), and increase withdrawal.
In efforts to help their children, many parents resort to shielding their children from various stressors, including giving them a “mental health day” (which can frequently turn into several days or more), contacting teachers to implement strategies to shield their child from a particular stressor, or allowing their children to “check out” of activities that might be contributing to their anxious state. While accommodations and occasional breaks may be helpful for children who have significant mental health needs, they should not replace specific therapeutic efforts to help youth learn coping skills to reduce their anxiety. Techniques such as cognitive reframing, exposure therapy, and role-playing how children and adolescents might handle anxiety provoking situations can all be extremely helpful in moving them past the avoidance mode and into the action mode. Furthermore, there may be co-occurring family variables contributing to anxiety levels which may warrant clinical intervention. As children and adolescents start to experience success handling various stressors, they also develop increased confidence in their growing tool-box of skills.
The following articles are provided for additional information about anxiety in youth. Additionally, given the impending Halloween holiday articles about managing fears this time of year are also included. If you would like to talk more about your child or adolescent and how best to manage their anxiety, Dr. Laura Rubin and Dr. Lauren Cook are available for consultation.