Working with Teen Anxiety

The teenage years are transition years, and are prone to anxiety. A period where a child morphs into a young adult with an enormous shift in social expectations, rights and responsibilities, and whilst some transition with relative ease, others struggle.

This process of going from adopting the views of others to generating and operating on your own voice is called “individuation”. It is a vital learning period if the teen is to become an independent thinker and self-reliant individual. Errors of judgement are intrinsic to this process, but for some it will all be too much. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people aged between 10-24 in this country, and more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.

Why are teenagers so prone to anxiety?

The teen years are years of infused change that they are generally not prepared for. They are given conflicting messages, and of course they are adults; except when they are not.

They have to deal with the emergence of their sexuality. They have to navigate the sometimes-rough terrain of relationships without the cognitive or emotional maturity to handle conflict, disappointment or embarrassment.  Then there is school performance, and the pressures to decide “what they want to do when they grow up.” I don’t remember this being an easy decision when I was a teen, but today there is an explosion of options that can make the choice even more difficult. Add in the fact we are living in a world of such rapid change that jobs you can get qualified for today may not exist in 2027 only makes for a more uncertain world.

Then of course the need to “fit in” is enormous during this time is not new, but these peer pressures have been amplified immeasurably by the advent of social media. If you are a parent you probably remember going off and playing and coming back for dinner, after which you had no real further contact with anyone outside of the family. In my capacity as a therapist I often see parents complain that their children are online constantly, and hear teens complain that boyfriends expect an immediate response to a text at 1am.

Additionally there are now easy and often anonymous ways to bully others. Bullied victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, and 10 to 14 year old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide, according to studies by Yale University. According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying.

What is anxiety?

Lets first quickly outline what anxiety is. It is the fear of the unknown. It is never about what has happened, it is always about what you imagine will happen. It is not, as many would have you think, a response to external pressures, but a response to the imagined/perceived pressures that you cannot control. You imagine a catastrophic outcome, and then you panic in response to your own imagination.

The trip up point for all of us is that our ability to create the catastrophe in full HD is not matched by our ability to make the distinction between what is real and what is imagined. Once you are imagining a future event you are “making stuff up”! One could argue that this is a great skill to have because the ability to go into the future and see danger allows up to plan contingencies. But most of us don’t do this…we tend to just worry. This is a skills gap for most of us. This is a cognitive pattern called “avoidance”, and if we don’t know how to interrupt these ineffective patterns, there is no way we can teach our teens to handle them.

So there is a simple equation. Poor coping strategies that include avoidant thinking, and an enormous barrage of uncertainty equals anxiety. When your future is so uncertain, whether you are concerned about the what you might see the next time you look at your phone, or your ability to manage the impending break up, or longer term concerns of having to fend for yourself, and you don’t have the requisite skills to manage your own thinking or emotions, then you are going to be vulnerable.

Here is how most people ‘do’ anxiety:

  • A state of anxiety requires you to constantly ask the question: what if?
  • An anxiety sufferer will always imagine future events as going pear shaped, with good outcomes as rare, and disaster as most likely.  In anxiety literature it’s known as ‘catastrophising’. If you do not have the ability to recognise what is a realistic threat, and what is just embellishment, you have a problem.
  • Anxiety is a learned patterned behaviour and the more anxious a parent is, the more likely the teen has learned the process.
  • The only way to create anxiety is to constantly overthink a situation with a distinctly negative bias. This gives rise to negativity having way too much air-time inside your head and the failure to review how realistic the imagined catastrophe will be.

Coach your teen to success with NLP Strategies

Beyondnlp’s training helps you (and your teen) develop a toolkit to more effectively choose which thoughts or feelings you should listen to, and which ones you should simply ignore. If you think about this now, this is a core skill for life. In any circumstance, because it is this choice that determines your behaviour. Unfortunately for most people this is easy enough when nothing much is at stake, but hard when the storm hits. And if you don’t know how to do it…what can you realistically teach your teen?

All of us are conditioned towards either optimism or pessimism. It is a continuum, but put simply, the more pessimistic you are, the more anxiety will be a constant companion. Research suggests that these patterns stay with us for life unless you do something significant to intervene. This is where an intensive NLP training offers enormous value that lasts a lifetime.

What can we do right now?

The answer to anxiety is realistically assess the potential risk. The worse case scenario is never the most likely case scenario!

  1. Tease out each concern and flesh it out with all of the possible consequences (they are often set up like a set of dominos) Then help your teen map out what they know for sure, and what are the likely uncertainties.  If there is information missing, go and get it. Can you look it up online? Is the information publicly available, or can you ask someone? Seek to minimise the uncertainties.
  2. On each uncertainty do a realistic risk assessment. Include the worst-case scenario and discuss how they might deal with that if it happened, then discuss how likely that is. Then scale back to what is more likely but less dramatic.
  3. Remind them of a resolved issue they have dealt with in the past that no longer has any emotional charge to it. Now take them into the future  (6-12 month or longer depending on the gravity of the situation) where there is no change to the current issue, and have them look back at the issue with hindsight.

Don’t do this alone

The way to protect your children is to teach them resilience in an uncertain world. This comes down to their ability to choose their responses to events around them. This is the underpinning to responsibility. The ability to respond!

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “The weaknesses of the teacher will be the weaknesses of the student.” If you cannot teach your teens self-management to a high and demonstrable degree, come and learn how to do it. Our NLP Practitioner Certification teaches you to that you are in charge of much more than you think you are, and 1000s of parents like you have reported better relationships with their children as well as the comfort of being able to help their teens through difficult times using their new found NLP skills.


WebMD, Depression Guide, “Recognizing the Warning Signs of Suicide” [online]
Nemours, KidsHealth, “Helping Kids Deal with Bullies” [online]
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Suicide Prevention, “Youth Suicide” [online]
Yale University, Office of Public Affairs, “Bullying-Suicide Link Explored in New Study by Researchers at Yale” [online]
Matt Dickinson, The Independent, “Research finds bullying link to child suicides” [online]
Michael Inbar, MSNBC Today, “Sexting bullying cited in teen’s suicide” [online]
Susan Donaldson James, ABC News, Health, “Teen Commits Suicide Due to Bullying: Parents Sue School for Son’s Death” [online]