Editor’s Note: Psychologist John Duffy, author of “Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety,” practices in Chicago. He specializes in work with teens, parents, couples and families.
I started working with Shannon, a high school junior, at the beginning of lockdown. Shannon has asthma, and she’s afraid of getting Covid-19 herself. She’s also afraid of making a family member or someone else sick. And she fears the pandemic will never be over, that things will never again feel normal.
I also work with Tim, a high school senior. I started therapy with Tim about two years ago. He is a handsome, popular, athletic guy. But he’s stressed about being able to afford the upper-middle-class life his parents have given him. He can’t picture being successful, and he is painfully anxious about it. Especially during the pandemic, possible failure is on his mind nearly constantly.
Do you remember worrying about your adult life when you were a teenager? Neither do I. Kids just think differently now. Like Shannon and Tim (not their real names), they have this broad scope and range of experience and knowledge, based in large part on what is available to them on screens, and from their friends.
The pandemic has made things so much worse. Many teens I work with deal with a nearly crippling social anxiety, either from a lack of practice after a year with precious little time with friends, or because of overall social insecurity. As a result, they experience the fear of missing out regularly, and they think their friends are enjoying themselves on TikTok and Snapchat, adding to their levels of stress.
Some also feel a sense of desperation, depression and anxiety they have never experienced before, always having considered themselves positive, upbeat people. Several of my clients are now taking medication to balance their moods.
How to recognize stress in your teens
Sometimes, our kids actually tell us they are stressed, which is amazing. If they do, you are lucky. Skip down to the “what parents can do to help” section right now.
More likely, they won’t. In my experience, kids are rarely forthcoming about these things, assuming parents either won’t get it or may limit their freedom to keep an eye on them at home in a misguided attempt to help.
I encourage parents to look for any marked change in their child’s mood or behavior due to anxiety and worry. Stressed kids can present as irritable, avoidant, even withdrawn. And/or their stress might manifest in physical symptoms, including fatigue, muscle pain, headaches, stomach iss