The Family’s Role in Adolescent Anxiety

In a recent post for Lower Manhattan based journal Luhud, New York-Presbyterian Hospital writers discuss the impact that anxiety has on teenagers and young adults.

angry child

While many ideas of teenage mental health center on the cultural staples of the rebel or outsider, teens can be emotionally volatile; not as stoic as we may believe. In many modern family structures, the first wave of independent decision-making can be anxiety inducing for a number of teenagers and young adults. And it makes sense. Going off to college, finding a first home or apartment, and hunting for the first job are all stressful periods of one’s life.

NY Presbyterian’s John Walkup, Director Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, identifies anxiety disorders as the dominant class of mental health disorders amongst teens. While we can’t say exactly why they take hold, we do know that they most typically start in childhood. These disorders take many different forms. For example, a child may experience separation anxiety when going off to school for the first time, or social anxiety when interacting with their new classmates. Although these children are curious enough to explore their new surroundings, as a child is wont to do, they will often do so with a stubborn sense of foreboding. At the end of the day, they’ll venture into the unknown, but something will feel off.

The recommended solution is for parents to seek treatment as soon as this behavior becomes apparent. Despite the high number of children who suffer from anxiety issues, only around a third of them receive treatment. Families can often exacerbate the issue, albeit unknowingly, by facilitating this behavior. Parents often want their kids to feel as comfortable as possible, so if being in novel situations makes a child visibly uncomfortable, parents may dissuade them from these interactions instead of receiving help. This has far reaching effects into the future, as this kind of anxiety can manifest itself as a roadblock for completing normal, healthy adult activities.