A Deeper Look Into Anxiety in Teens

Being a teen in today’s world is, in some respects, far more challenging than years before. Many teens today struggle to balance academic, social, and cultural expectations in a world that feels very uncertain and unpredictable. With mass media and a 24/7 news cycle, children are exposed to the reality of national and global perils and frightening possibilities of calamity. There are many sources of fear and anxiety closer to home too: getting bad grades, peer ridicule, not fitting in, not making the team, losing a loved one. The list goes on.
We can’t make these fearful things go away. God consistently says in Scripture that in this world we will have tribulation. Our children will never be free of fear, but we can help our teens develop hearts of courage to face whatever fears and anxieties will certainly come their way.
Fear is a God-given emotional experience that has purpose in our lives, to help protect us and galvanize us for action. Fear activates our bodies to jump out of the way of a moving car or sprint to catch a child falling off a swing. Fear instructs us to take action when we need to protect ourselves from danger. But how do we know when fear is within a “normal” range or when it is problematic and needs intervention?
Fear becomes disordered when we feel like we’re in danger, but we are actually safe. These feelings of anxiety, worry, or nervousness anticipate that something threatening will happen, real or perceived, and lead to symptoms like increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, muscle tension, or avoidance behaviors. Maybe you’ve noticed your teen withdraw from their normal social activities, exhibit separation anxiety, or display more perfectionistic tendencies than before.
Anxiety is a natural human response to life’s stresses and uncertainties. After all, Jesus instructs Martha not to be anxious when she is trying to prepare for his visit. But left unattended, anxiety can grow into a more significant issue impairing your teen’s daily life. Upwards of 30% of adolescents have some sort of anxiety disorder today, which can lead to increased social isolation, depression, and self-harming behaviors.
The good news of the Gospel is that God has made us in such a way to have strength and courage to face our fears. The more we live in abiding connection to other people, the less our hearts obsess over the bad things that might happen and anxiety begins to lose its power. This is where your parenting relationship can shine. Being with your children in their fears rather than trying to fix or minimize them teaches teens how to engage their suffering with a grounded heart in the context of a safe relationship. What does this sound like? “I am with you in this battle, I’m not going anywhere, we are in this together.” When we bring our pain to a loving and safe relationship, we will grow and change.
And this is exactly how we come to God who is familiar and welcoming of our deepest fears. God is our sympathetic and compassionate high priest who offers the gentle encouragement of his greatest promise to us, “I am with you.”
If you would like additional resources to address your teen’s anxiety or tools to learn how to cultivate an open relationship with your teen, please contact The Barnabas Center to connect with a counselor. The Barnabas Center offers Gospel-centered professional counseling to members at Christ the King and our community, and we count it a privilege to walk with parents and teens as they navigate their emotional journey.
“Be strong and courageous….it is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deut. 31:7).
Leslie Peacock