Dear Dr. Darcy,
I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life. Only in the past few years have I started to understand my triggers and ways to work on them. Lately, I’ve noticed in my teenage son some of the same behaviors I used to use to manage my anxiety. I see a change in him and he won’t talk about it with me or his dad. He has always been a quiet child but seeing him go down the same path as I did is heartbreaking when all I want to do is help him. Are there some basic tactics I can teach him to help him cope, or even subtle ways I can possibly get him to listen to me?
I completely empathize with your situation. As parents, we don’t want our kids to struggle. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to safeguard them from their own challenges.
The situation is a little tricky because your son is a teenager and, developmentally, he’s meant to separate from you and your husband in order to create his own identity. Which means, you can’t be his go-to on this and if you push, you can create different issues.
Here are two paths forward depending on your situation:
If your son knows he struggles with anxiety or is prone to anxiety, do this:
Let him know that you can see he’s struggling. Tell him you know of an app that can help with anxiety and give him this one. It’s an evidence-based program created by an MD at Brown. This app delivers daily lessons that take very little time but if he can follow instructions and use it, it’ll make a huge difference. I’ve personally used the app with many clients and all but 1 had amazing results.
If your son doesn’t know he struggles with anxiety, do this:
The next time he engages in one of those behaviors that makes you think he’s struggling with anxiety, gently ask, “I’m curious why you [insert his behavior here].” See if he’ll acknowledge that he’s worried or nervous or anxious. If he does, do not try to discuss it with him. Say, “I’m sure you know I’ve had my own struggles. They didn’t have apps when I was your age but they do now. Would you be willing to try an app that teaches you how to manage anxiety?” And give him the app.
The other thing I’d encourage you to do is to get him out of the house and involved in some sort of organized sports or hobby. I mention sports first because people who struggle with anxiety report feeling less anxiety when they work out intensely 4 or more times weekly. But any social activity that he enjoys will benefit him.
I’ll end with this: Teenagers can look a little… unbalanced, and that’s because they’re flooded with hormones. It’s similar to what women who suffer from PMS experience or what menopause can cause. It can make them look and feel a little nuts. I want you to remember that much of what you’re seeing may be hormonal and it could dissipate over time. That said, the app teaches useful emotional management skills, so there’s no harm in giving him access — and while you’re at it, use it yourself. It might give you even more relief than what you’ve gotten on your own.
Sexual Orientation: Straight