Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Teens and Anxiety: I'm Not Perfect

Watch this video and then we'll talk.

The Today Show is doing this wonderful series on The Secret Lives Of Teens which I will discuss over the next 3 blogs

The teens featured in this video articulate beautifully what I think are pretty universal stressors of teens life.

  • Parental pressure and expectations
  • Worries about the future
  • Social Networking and the false self
I had a conversation recently with  a parent who has the "perfect daughter." Extremely smart and well spoken, lovely to her parents, loved by teachers, and has an active social life filled with equally smart and lovely kids. Sounds too good to be true doesn't it? Guess what? It is too good to be true. On a recent morning, mom went in to wake her teen up, and noticed that her room was trashed, not just messy but intentionally trashed. Turns out, that the pressure cooker that was sizzling inside this terrific kid, finally burst. She confessed that she had had a bad night, and feels depressed and anxious. This came as a complete and total shock to his parents. She had been playing her role as the perfect teen with perfection, until she couldn't.

You may have that teen who has breezed their way through school seemingly effortlessly. Good grades, great behavior, but unbeknownst to you there is a storm brewing. Some kids hit high school with a slam. Perhaps school has been pretty easy, but now the honors classes are piling up, and everyone's expectations are high, this is a star! College acceptances will be plentiful. Life is good. Only now, the work is actually hard, and it isn't coming so easy anymore, maybe they aren't really as smart as everyone thinks. And now there are more distractions. Maybe his/her social life has finally kicked in, and he/she realizes that being with friends is way more fun that reading gobs of books. And with this new social life comes stressors. Who do I like, do they like me, etc etc. Life is not so easy anymore.

If this sounds like your teen, don't wait for an explosion. Give your teen the permission not to be perfect.  Pre-emptively, before a crisis, ask your teen whether he/she feels pressured by you in any way. Let them know that you get how hard it must feel sometimes to please all the people in his/her life who expect great things from them, ie parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches. Ask them if there is anything you could do differently to take some of the pressure off. Remember it is not your teen's job to meet your expectations and goals for for them. 

I especially was touched by the young woman who talked about social networking and the false self she put online. There is soooooooooo much pressure for teens to use twitter and instagram, and tumblr and facebook, snapchat etc to present a particular persona, which may be completely out of sync with what is really going on inside of them. Giving your teen a social networking nightly sabbatical may at first make them furious with you, but later on will provide them with a much needed break from the superficial chatter. It may take a few days, but parents have told me that their teens eventually felt such relief from the 24/7 relentless need to post. 

Just because your teen doesn't appear to be stressed, don't assume that they aren't. They have become pretty good at giving you what they think you want. And maybe their fear of disappointing you gets in the way of letting them see their messy self. Which by the way, we all have! By the way, watch this video with your teen. Great conversation starter!!


  1. Perfect timing on this subject, Joani! We had a "pressure" conversation tonight!

  2. Meeting other people’s expectation and peer pressure are usually the things that make it hard for teenagers to break free and speak up for themselves. As a result, they end up confused and not knowing the things that they are really want to do. To the parents, I think it’s best for them to ask their children what they have in mind. Encourage them to do activities that really interest them. Most importantly, accept them for what they would become. There’s nothing more that the children could ask for, than the support and understanding from their parents.

    Felix Stewart @ Frontenac Youth Services