I’m not writing to evoke your sympathy. I know that virtually all the contributors in this amazing community are teens. So what do I hope to get from this post? I would love for some parents to step up and start writing about the experiences with the anxiety in their teen’s life. Let’s talk about how to help her/him. Let’s ask the questions where the answers are not so obvious. Having a teen with anxiety does not reflect poorly on you. It doesn’t mean you are an ineffective parent or tell the world you don’t love your teen enough. Sharing your experiences (good and bad) will be the spark that gets parents talking and ultimately – it will show your teen that you’re 100% supportive of her/him. I hope my daughter feels that way after reading this.
My brilliant and beautiful daughter is 19 but she wasn’t diagnosed with anxiety until she was 18. Yes, you read that right – her dad and I didn’t recognize that what she was dealing with was a full-blown, plain-as-day anxiety disorder – with a splash of OCD. Before I go on, please understand that the hardest part of being a parent to our anxious teen is THIS:
We had it all wrong.
We didn’t understand or recognize her struggle. Anxiety wasn’t even on our radar. We do not live under a rock. We know people whose children have mental illness. In hindsight, we simply missed the signs because we didn’t know them.
As she began high school, her anxiety got more severe. Her clique-y “friend” group cut her out of the group and she basically had to start making new friends – at 15. When she was 16 I took her for some counseling and she did see some improvement from it, but it was temporary. One step forward, two steps back.
I became the “coddler” and tried desperately to help her survive her teen years. Her dad became the one who stopped trying to understand the basis for the girl drama. Her younger brother tried to avoid any controversial topics at the dinner table, lest he cause an outburst or emotional meltdown. There was an immeasurable amount of tension and sadness in our home and we watched helplessly when she retreated to her bedroom (often) for solitude.
I thought her issues with friends and relationships were due to immaturity or a high level of sensitivity, or that her school was full of “Mean Girls.” I was convinced that she would outgrow this “phase” and once she was off at college, everything would fall into place and she would blossom into a completely functional young woman. She excelled academically but struggled socially, until the second semester of her senior year.
I listened to her music (liked most of it) we went shopping (didn’t love her taste in clothing), and we seemed to have an open line of communication. I tried to get to know her friends, but her friendships were often short-lived and fraught with conflict. I thought I was the cool parent who understood and knew her daughter well. That is our biggest regret…we lost something important in those formative years. I often ask myself “Why didn’t we see it?” We’ll never be able to fix it, get those years back, and make it right.
Fast forward to the present! At 19, she is thriving as a college sophomore with friends, sorority sisters, not too many hangovers, and great grades. This year she’ll turn 20 and officially leave her teen years behind. However, I often replay the bad times in my head, which is just what moms do – we thrive on guilt. My daughter takes medication for anxiety, News flash: there is no magic pill. The meds have significantly reduced our daughter’s physical anxiety symptoms. These days she has a weekly session of cognitive behavioral therapy (via FaceTime) with her therapist from home, plus a monthly visit to the psychiatrist we found near campus.
What are the other hard parts? I’ll save those for other posts.
Parents: I hope to see your comments on your hardest part.
By: Melanie Wine, Anxiety In Teens Parent Contributor