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Are We Contributing to our Children's Anxiety?

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

In today’s world, it is nearly impossible to miss the pervasive anxiety that is circulating both in the larger context of society, as well as within our daily lives. The unease of living in a world of mass shootings, threats of nuclear warfare and political unrest, in conjunction with the often overwhelming stress of achievement, competition, high expectation, social media influx and managing busier and busier lives, has made the existence of anxiety palpable, especially in our children.

It may come as no surprise that anxiety amongst children and teens is becoming more and more prevalent (Schrobsdorff, 2016). As quoted from the recently popular New York Times Magazine article called “Why are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering from Severe Anxiety?” by Benoit Denizet-Lewis, the author cites a professor of psychology from Arizona State University named Suniya Luthar. As quoted, “For many of these young people, the biggest single stressor is that they ‘never get to the point where they can say, “I’ve done enough, and now I can stop,” ’ Luthar says. ‘There’s always one more activity, one more A.P. class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college. Kids have a sense that they’re not measuring up. The pressure is relentless and getting worse’ ” (Denizet-Lewis, 2017).

Anxiety often rears its powerful head when our outcomes begin to feel out of control or when we do not have certainty in a given situation. We often desire perfection, or close to it, and this expectation is no exception for the lives of our children. Intellectually, it is easy to understand that perfection is far fetched and even an unhealthy goal to set for ourselves and our children, however we are often, out of love and genuine desire for our kids to thrive, aiming for the most certain path to happiness, fulfillment, financial security and safety. But what if we were aiding, unknowingly, in our children’s growing anxiety?

Is there anything we can do to help our children feel less anxious? We as parents are not entirely responsible for our children’s emotional makeup, however what if we could ease their burdens, even if ever so slightly? Here are some points to consider:

Allow Discomfort: We need to be more conscious of allowing our children to experience less than perfect situations; ones where they are uncomfortable, unhappy, disappointed and challenged. These experiences build character and often, allow children to see that they can handle difficult situations. They may not like muddling through such trials, but there is a confidence that is inherently built in their own abilities to solve problems, get through sticky situations, and generally deal with the feeling of being uneasy. We don’t want kids to avoid what makes them anxious. We want them to confront it. Avoidance often does not lead to improvements in symptoms of anxiety.

Don’t Be the Fixer: I am not suggesting placing kids in unsafe or unhealthy environments, but ones that teach kids that mom and dad are not going to fix the problem or ensure comfort. Instead, it is up to them to figure out how to navigate a path to their own comfort. We need to send our kids the message, “I believe in you to figure this out. You may not always succeed right away, but you will sort out how to get to where you want to go. I will be there cheering you on and helping you brainstorm, but not doing this for you.”

Let Them Direct Their Own Path: We need to focus on asking, “Where do YOU want to go in life?” versus “Where do you think I want you to go in life?” We want them to connect with THEIR wants and hopes, not ours. Yes, surely we may influence, guide and advise them, but ultimately, we want them to be in control of their outcomes. This can start when they are young. Questioning our kids as to what they want to do, giving choices, encouraging them to listen to their feelings and respond accordingly, are all places to start.

Respond to Their Feelings: We want kids to be able to say, as the article cited previously quotes, “I’ve done enough, and now I can stop.” We want them to be able to “tune in” to their feelings and respond to them, rather than ignore them because they think they need to keep pushing themselves to achieve more and more when there is no end in sight. The point being, the more children feel that we as parents trust them to navigate their lives and make decisions that best suit them, the more in control of their lives they will feel and hopefully, this will trickle down to less anxiety.

Stepping back and assuming a role of cheering squad, rather than controller, is certainly worth a try. As counter intuitive as it may seem to remove ourselves from becoming involved, it is often much healthier for our children to know that we trust them to take control. If they need help, we are available, but we are sending them the message that we believe in them to navigate their world, to dive in head first to the challenges that lie ahead, as anxiety provoking as they may be. Most importantly, we are sending them the message that we are not anxious for them and neither do they need to be.

Amy Small, L.C.S.W., M.S. Ed., is a psychotherapist in private practice in North Miami. She specializes in anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, relationship and family conflict, stress management and parenting.

Schrobsdorff, Susanna. (2016, November). Teen Depression and Anxiety: Why the Kids Are Not Alright. Time. Retrieved from

Denizet-Lewis, Benoit. (2017, October). Why are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering from Severe Anxiety?” New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from

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