How to Identify Anxiety in Adolescents and to Talk to Them About It

How to Identify Anxiety in Adolescents and to Talk to Them About It

Jacqueline Sperling, PhD

Jacqueline Sperling

Jacqueline Sperling, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, who specializes in implementing evidence-based treatments, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and in working with youth who present with anxiety disorders and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In addition, she is experienced in providing parent guidance on how to manage children with internalizing and externalizing behavior issues.Currently, Dr. Sperling is the Director of Training and Research at and helped develop the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program (MAMP), an intensive group-based outpatient program for children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 with anxiety disorders and OCD, at McLean Hospital.  She also is an Instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School and has a private practice in Cambridge, MA.

How to Identify Anxiety in Adolescents and to Talk to Them About It

Share
No
anxiety and teens adolescents

One of the key issues that consumers ask us about is how to identify warning signs in adolescents regarding anxiety and how to raise the issue with their adolescents. 

We get the sense that some parents do not know how to bring up the issue and what language to use when speaking to their children, including what to look for when the kids respond.

Everyone experiences anxiety, but what are the signs for which one should look when it becomes a problem for adolescents?  Below are some symptoms and behaviors of different types of anxiety disorders for parents to keep in mind:

Social Anxiety Disorder

It is developmentally appropriate for adolescents to care about what others think of them, but social anxiety involves a worry about being judged or embarrassed that is above and beyond what peers commonly experience.  If your adolescent stops participating in class, texting or calling friends, spending time with friends, or ordering in restaurants, then social anxiety may be an issue. 

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety may be a concern if your adolescent worries about something bad happening to you or him/herself to the point that separating from you becomes difficult.  This may look like an avoidance of going to school, parties, or sleepovers and/or a worry about you leaving home for work, errands, or social plans.  Your adolescent may mention experiencing physical symptoms, such as stomachaches and headaches, right before separating from you.

Panic Disorder

Adolescents with Panic Disorder will describe having brief but intense episodes of anxiety that come “out of the blue” and that make them feel like they are having a heart attack or “going crazy.”  During an attack, you may see them hyperventilate, shake, and cry, and they may tell you that they feel dizzy, nauseated, and sweaty.  These adolescents fear having the attacks and may avoid places where they have had or might have panic attacks.

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia may be present if an adolescent avoids public places, such as malls, modes of transportation, movie theaters, or school, because of a fear that he/she will be trapped and unable to escape or will embarrass him/herself. 

Specific Phobias

Many people do not like bugs, heights, or needles.  Having a specific phobia of something, however, interferes with daily life.  For example, a refusal to go to the doctor to receive necessary bloodwork because of a fear of needles indicates that this type of anxiety is getting in the way. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Your adolescent may have GAD if he/she has difficulty controlling worries about multiple issues, such as health, the future, finances, and the state of world.  You may see your adolescent frequently seek reassurance and ask “What if” questions.  You also may notice that no matter how many times you answer the questions, the anxiety and questions persist. 

Anxiety can make it difficult to concentrate and sleep, and it also can make adolescents irritable.  You may see adolescents avoiding their anxiety by spending excessive time on electronics and/or withdrawing from school, social plans, and extracurricular activities.  Resistance to go places or do things in the home may not be a sign that you have an oppositional adolescent; it may be an indication that your child is anxious and trying to avoid experiencing distress.

How to talk to your adolescents about getting help for anxiety?

I recommend leading with concern and curiosity.  Describe what you are seeing, without adding in words that convey judgment.  For example: “I have noticed that you have stopped seeing your friends lately and asked us to make calls for you.  I am wondering if these activities have been making you anxious.”  After your child responds, you can follow up, if appropriate, with: “Anxiety is very normal, and it also can worsen and get in the way of things we want to do.  I am here if you want to talk, and we also can take you to see someone to help you with this.”

Jacqueline Sperling, PhD

Jacqueline Sperling

Jacqueline Sperling, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, who specializes in implementing evidence-based treatments, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and in working with youth who present with anxiety disorders and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In addition, she is experienced in providing parent guidance on how to manage children with internalizing and externalizing behavior issues.Currently, Dr. Sperling is the Director of Training and Research at and helped develop the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program (MAMP), an intensive group-based outpatient program for children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 with anxiety disorders and OCD, at McLean Hospital.  She also is an Instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School and has a private practice in Cambridge, MA.

Use of Website Blog Commenting

Use of Website Blog Commenting

ADAA provides this Website blogs for the benefit of its members and the public. The content, view and opinions published in Blogs written by our personnel or contributors – or from links or posts on the Website from other sources - belong solely to their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of ADAA, its members, management or employees. Any comments or opinions expressed are those of their respective contributors only. Please remember that the open and real-time nature of the comments posted to these venues makes it is impossible for ADAA to confirm the validity of any content posted, and though we reserve the right to review and edit or delete any such comment, we do not guarantee that we will monitor or review it. As such, we are not responsible for any messages posted or the consequences of following any advice offered within such posts. If you find any posts in these posts/comments to be offensive, inaccurate or objectionable, please contact us via email at [email protected] and reference the relevant content. If we determine that removal of a post or posts is necessary, we will make reasonable efforts to do so in a timely manner.

ADAA expressly disclaims responsibility for and liabilities resulting from, any information or communications from and between users of ADAA’s blog post commenting features. Users acknowledge and agree that they may be individually liable for anything they communicate using ADAA’s blogs, including but not limited to defamatory, discriminatory, false or unauthorized information. Users are cautioned that they are responsible for complying with the requirements of applicable copyright and trademark laws and regulations. By submitting a response, comment or content, you agree that such submission is non-confidential for all purposes. Any submission to this Website will be deemed and remain the property of ADAA.

The ADAA blogs are forums for individuals to share their opinions, experiences and thoughts related to mental illness. ADAA wants to ensure the integrity of this service and therefore, use of this service is limited to participants who agree to adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Refrain from transmitting any message, information, data, or text that is unlawful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, that may be invasive of another 's privacy, hateful, or bashing communications - especially those aimed at gender, race, color, sexual orientation, national origin, religious views or disability.

Please note that there is a review process whereby all comments posted to blog posts and webinars are reviewed by ADAA staff to determine appropriateness before comments are posted. ADAA reserves the right to remove or edit a post containing offensive material as defined by ADAA.

ADAA reserves the right to remove or edit posts that contain explicit, obscene, offensive, or vulgar language. Similarly, posts that contain any graphic files will be removed immediately upon notice.

2. Refrain from posting or transmitting any unsolicited, promotional materials, "junk mail," "spam," "chain mail," "pyramid schemes" or any other form of solicitation. ADAA reserves the right to delete these posts immediately upon notice.

3. ADAA invites and encourages a healthy exchange of opinions. If you disagree with a participant 's post or opinion and wish to challenge it, do so with respect. The real objective of the ADAA blog post commenting function is to promote discussion and understanding, not to convince others that your opinion is "right." Name calling, insults, and personal attacks are not appropriate and will not be tolerated. ADAA will remove these posts immediately upon notice.

4. ADAA promotes privacy and encourages participants to keep personal information such as address and telephone number from being posted. Similarly, do not ask for personal information from other participants. Any comments that ask for telephone, address, e-mail, surveys and research studies will not be approved for posting.

5. Participants should be aware that the opinions, beliefs and statements on blog posts do not necessarily represent the opinions and beliefs of ADAA. Participants also agree that ADAA is not to be held liable for any loss or injury caused, in whole or in part, by sponsorship of blog post commenting. Participants also agree that ADAA reserves the right to report any suspicions of harm to self or others as evidenced by participant posts.

RESOURCES AND NEWS
Evidence-based Tips & Strategies from our Member Experts
RELATED ARTICLES
Block reference
TAKING ACTION
After viewing my art and story, I want others to understand that we are not alone in this and…

Advertisement