5 ways you can help your teenager understand and overcome their anxious thoughts.
Social anxiety and perfectionism is a major issue that affects our teens on a daily basis. The pressure to perform and compete in school and with peers is immense and takes a significant toll on their mental, physical, and spiritual health. With teens only having 13 to 18 whole years of life experience, it is no wonder they struggle with so much anxiety. They are experiencing events and feelings for the very first time in their lives; how are they supposed to know the “right” or “wrong” way of doing things? How are they supposed to know how to cope with each new experience?
Having worked with teens in a mental health setting for the past 15 years, I have observed just how anxiety and perfectionism affects them. Teens worry about school performance and are often forced to compete with their peers due to the structure of the education system. They worry about friendships because these relationships are their lifelines and most likely the first people they turn to when they become stressed and overwhelmed.
Due to anxiety and the pressure to perform, there could be conflict at home with parents and siblings; they may seem irritated all the time. Parents often state that they don’t understand their children; and likewise, teens often don’t understand their parents. Additionally, anxiety can also present as fear and can be debilitating. Grades and relationships with others may suffer.
What does the Bible say about anxiety?
The Bible mentions the phrase “fear not” 365 times. I think God was intentional in this as it gives us the opportunity to practice “fearing not” every day of the year using a different verse each day.
In 2 Timothy 1:7, it states “For God gave us not a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control.”
To overcome anxiety, our teens must realize that fear is not our natural state of being. We are called to the supernatural, but we aren’t supposed to do this alone. Through this supernatural power, our teens can focus on being strong in their convictions, focus on loving others and loving themselves, and making healthy decisions. This is exactly what is needed to overcome anxiety and perfectionism.
Another verse that comes to mind in relation to coping with anxiety and perfectionism is Matthew 11: 28-30. There it states, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
This verse encourages us to turn to Jesus and Jesus’ name for supernatural strength. Perfectionism can seem to be a heavy burden, but with His help, we can rest our worries on Jesus and He will carry us through every second of our lives.
How can parents help their teens navigate social anxiety and perfectionism?
- Focus on Your Home: First and foremost, creating a safe and supportive environment for your teen to come to you is very important. This looks like taking an interest in their daily lives, validating their experiences (instead of minimizing their feelings), and holding their confidences. The more the teen trusts you, the more likely they will go to you with their worries, stressors, questions, and struggles.
- Focus on Encouragement; Empower your teen by building them up, telling them how proud you are, and acknowledging their small, daily victories.
- Focus on the short-term: Have you ever asked your teen when something happened in the past? They often state “It was a long time ago”. When you ask them for the specific date, it will most likely be “last week.” They developmentally struggle with the concept of time. Focusing on reducing anxiety one week or one day at a time is most helpful. You can help your teen do this by asking:
“What can you do to cope with your anxiety today”
“How can I help you with your schoolwork this week?”
“What can I do that is the most helpful for you today?”
- Focus on Prayer: The final and most important suggestion for parents to do is to pray FOR and pray WITH your child. Prayer is empowering, uplifting, and comforting. Praying with your teen teaches them how to pray, how to turn to and rely on God for comfort, and strengthens the bond the two of you have with each other. It is through this prayer time that your teen can begin to trust you even more. Praying FOR your teen will help you feel more confident in your ability to help them cope with anxiety and their need to strive for perfection. Lifting them up to God is powerful, healing and absolutely necessary.
- Focus on Jesus: Finally, I leave you with this hope for the future in being able to help your teen overcome their anxieties:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” -John 14:27
When you make this a daily prayer for and with your teen, perfectionism and anxiety melts away. For the presence of God is healing and ever-present in our lives.
Heather R. Roberts is a licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist and a Professional Counselor in the State of Texas. She has over 15 years of experience working with adolescents and families, helping them navigate relationships, personal growth, and their faith in God. Heather finds great joy in helping families grow closer to God and to each other.