Anxiety and Successful Teens

You may be missing some important information about your teen.

You've heard from other parents about the many challenges they experience with their teenager, and their concerns don't really resonate with you. While their adolescents may stay out late partying, engage in risky behaviors, or constantly argue with them, you feel like you have a pretty good relationship overall with your child. 

Your teen is getting good grades at schools, has an active friend group, participates in extracurriculars, and is thinking and talking constantly about their goals for college and after. They seem to be on the right track with everyone. So why am I telling you to be concerned?

Your high achieving teens could be experiencing significant anxiety.

As an anxiety specialist, I often find that the teens who get referred to me are successful in school and have fairly good relationships with their parents, but they are so focused on the future that it gets in the way of their enjoyment of every day life. Instead of being able to roll with a B-, or getting cut from a play, or unexpectedly having to change the plan for family movie night, these small difficulties feel like catastrophes. Teenagers with anxiety may feel like their anxiety spirals, and pretty soon they have convinced themselves that a bad grade or forgetting an assignment means they won't get into college, won't have a successful career, and their life is ruined. Their anxiety doesn't allow them to take a more well-rounded perspective.

And frequently, these academically successful, engaged and engaging teens are uncomfortable sharing a perceived weakness with anyone - including you. 

I recently met with a 15 year old, who let me know that he was worried about meeting with a counselor. He felt like his anxiety was yet another problem that would get in the way of his future plans. "Anxiety is going to keep me from getting in to the college I want, it's going to prevent me from being a great doctor, and then I won't ever be able to open a medical clinic with Doctors Without Borders." 

He let me know he felt like such a "weirdo" for experiencing significant anxiety around academic issues. "I know my friends tell me they get nervous and stressed, too - but they seem to just get over it, and I don't understand why it's so hard for me. Nobody understands."

How to talk about this:

As a parent, you have the privilege of knowing your child better than anyone else. You may even have a sense while reading this blog post that anxiety could be a concern for your teen. 

But I often find that it's unhelpful, especially for a person with anxiety, to abruptly point out and label the problem. Instead, offer them opportunities to talk with you and explore what's going on.

If possible, share your own experiences with stress, and maybe the ways that anxiety gets in the way of your day to day life. 

If your teenager agrees that they perseverate on small failures, or they have trouble just getting out of their head, it may be helpful to meet with a counselor and build strategies for managing their anxiety. And when they're able to open up about what's going on, and know that they're not the only person who is dealing with significant anxiety, they can start to feel in control of this big part of their lives - and start enjoying being a teen, in the moment.  

Kelsey Torgerson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in trauma, anxiety, and anger management for kids and teens. Her private practice, Compassionate Counseling St. Louis, is located in Webster Groves. If you are interested to hear more about anxiety, or think that your teen may be experiencing anxiety, you can reach out via compassionatecounselingstl@gmail.com or call at 314-339-7640.