Is your teen what you would call a “worry wart?” Does she experience panic attacks? Does she avoid social situations? Does she seem anxious even when you can’t see anything to be worried about? If you can describe your teen with any of the above statements, it is possible that she suffers from an anxiety disorder. This is a class of mental illnesses that includes several types, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety, among others. If your teen seems as if she might be struggling with one of these disorders, rest assured that she is not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses and affect 25 percent of all teens and 30 percent of all teen girls. In fact, many experts are seeing a rise in the level of anxiety and the incidence of anxiety disorders in both adults and teenagers, and there are many possible explanations.
The Rise in Anxiety
That one-quarter of teens will struggle with an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives seems staggering. This number has been steadily rising, though, for nearly a century. According to researchers who looked at mental health data for high school and college students from 1938 to 2007, more and more young people report symptoms of mental illness in general, and anxiety in particular. The research looked at over 60,000 young people and read surveys of self-reported emotions and symptoms. The researchers found that over the years, teens are describing themselves in changing terms. They are seeing more descriptions of feelings such as isolation, sensitivity, being misunderstood, narcissistic, worry, sadness, low self-control and general dissatisfaction.
The Reasons for More Anxiety
So why are teens feeling more anxious than ever? Some put the blame on cultural changes. They say that our society’s increasing materialism over the years has eroded personal relationships and families. We now value money and personal luxuries more than relationships. This explanation can answer the question of increased anxiety for both adults and teens. Other experts look more closely at the teenage experience. Today, more teens stay in school longer and delay entering the workforce, which effectively extends the unstructured teenage years, often well into the 20s. More teenagers come from homes with divorced parents than ever before. More drugs are available and accessible to teens today. All of these things can contribute to increased feelings of anxiety and worry. Some experts also point to a strong sense of narcissism and entitlement among young people today. Our teens have been raised to believe that they can do anything. In many ways this seems like a positive attitude. Young people should be free to dream and to strive to achieve their dreams. However, when a young boy without the innate skills thinks he can play in the NBA one day, he is likely to suffer serious disappointment when his dreams are not realized. Many young people are also raised by parents who devote all of their energy to child-rearing. This helps to foster the narcissistic sense that a teen is the center of the world.
To know for sure if your teen suffers from an anxiety disorder, you need to get a diagnosis from a professional. Start with your doctor or pediatrician for a referral. Even if your teen does get a positive diagnosis, understand that these disorders are highly treatable. With therapy and possibly medication, your teen can learn to relax and enjoy life. You should also know that anxiety often occurs alongside depression. If you notice any signs of sadness or depression in your teen, bring it up at your doctor’s appointment. The truth is that we do not know for sure why teens are feeling more anxious than ever. The arguments that cultural changes, a focus on the material, and an exaggerated sense of entitlement in young people are affecting their mental health do not seem far-fetched, though. Your child may be destined to develop an anxiety disorder, but you can still counteract some of the negative aspects of society that lead to excessive worry. Spend more quality time together as a family. Stress the importance of people and relationships over money and things. Push your child to volunteer and to help others. If we could all realize and emphasize these important aspects of life more often, perhaps many of us would worry less.