Caring for Your Anxious Teen

Anxiety and panic can be very troubling for a teenager and it's important for parents to seek professional help.

Dealing with Anxiety

Anxiety in young people can be a disabling disorder, interfering with school, interpersonal relationships, and nearly every other aspect of their lives. Read more.Quite often even health professionals have difficulty distinguishing between depression and anxiety in an adolescent. Like depression, anxiety in young people can be a disabling disorder, interfering with school, interpersonal relationships, and nearly every other aspect of their lives. Some individuals also have physical symptoms along with the psychological ones.

Everybody has experienced anxiety from time to time. Sometimes it has a clear cause: examinations, a job interview, the first time behind the wheel of a car, the first attempt at sexual intercourse. Though this type of anxiety can be quite disruptive, it is transitory and disappears in short order.

But the unpleasant feelings associated with anxiety can also have no apparent cause and can become a chronic condition. This anxiety can be associated with a sense of danger or impending doom, even though there is no obvious justification for this feeling. As one pediatrician has said, "Fear is when you look up, see a 450-pound weight about to fall on your head, and feel discomfort. With anxiety, you feel the discomfort but you don't know the cause."

Anxiety (specifically, separation anxiety) sometimes occurs in younger children. But more serious problems with anxiety often begin in late adolescence or early adulthood and can take many forms. A common type is the so-called "panic disorder," often consisting of episodes of panic attacks (intense fearfulness) and physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, excessive sweating or cold, clammy hands, dizziness or light-headedness, trembling, tingling of the skin, muscle tension, flushes or chills, diarrhea, nausea, and a fear of dying. Hyperventilation is another common indication of this and other types of serious anxiety.

These adolescents also might experience agoraphobia -- another form of panic disorder characterized by an irrational fear of leaving familiar surroundings such as home. Thus they may be afraid to go to school because of a fear of crowds, feeling much more secure just staying in their room. The mere thought of venturing out into the world can cause many of the same physical symptoms described above. Panic attacks and agoraphobia can even occur together.

No matter what form the anxiety takes, however, these teenagers may have difficulty falling or staying asleep. They may also have trouble concentrating, and they can be quite irritable. Anxiety can manifest itself as chest pain, headaches, or abdominal pain too, and affect teenagers of any age.

No one knows exactly how prevalent anxiety disorders are among adolescents. But as with depression, anxiety can be provoked by factors ranging from the modern stresses on families to the breakup of the family unit. If a teenager's family has been split by divorce, or if there are serious economic pressures in the household, anxiety may be one way in which he will react. If he feels overwhelming pressure to get excellent grades to gain admission to the college that Dad attended, he may be experiencing genuine panic relative to his schoolwork.

Some adolescent anxiety is associated with growing up, leaving home, and separating from mother and father. The challenge of being independent is too much for some teenagers to bear, and they may panic at the mere thought of it.

As with depression, you shouldn't ignore adolescent anxiety. If your teenager appears to have a persistent anxiety disorder, a pediatrician should evaluate him. The doctor should begin by conducting a complete physical exam, since many medical problems can produce states that mimic anxiety disorders. Once the doctor rules out medical disorders, he or she should look closely at what may be causing the anxiety or the panic attacks. What are the stresses in the youngster's life? Are there problems with peers or the family that could be disturbing to him?

Counseling is often very effective for these young people, helping them deal with and ease their anxiety. Also, if there's a way you can change your youngster's environment to help relieve the stress in his life, you should make a strong effort to do just that.

Doctors sometimes prescribe short-term drug therapy as well. Your family's pediatrician might recommend that your youngster take an antianxiety medication or even an antidepressant drug. But your teenager should never take any medication that hasn't been prescribed specifically for him.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2003

next: Chronic Illness May Affect a Child's Social Development
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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2003, January 1). Caring for Your Anxious Teen, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 13 from

Last Updated: July 2, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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