Has your teen been experiencing feelings of anxiety? Are you unsure on how you can help your teen overcome their feelings of anxiety? To help understand what type of impact your teen’s feelings of anxiety could be having on their overall life and what you can do as a parent to help your teen overcome feelings of anxiety, I have interviewed psychologist Dr. Holly Gordon.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a psychologist who has been practicing in San Francisco for 25 years. I specialize in adolescent, individual, and couples psychotherapy. I am an assistant professor of psychiatry at UCSF and am on the faculty of the San Francisco Center of Psychoanalysis.”
What type of impact can feelings of anxiety have on a teen’s overall life?
“Anxiety is a warning signal that we all need'”it tells us that a danger is present that we should attend to. The major developmental tasks of adolescence are to separate from our families of origin, to form new relationships, and to find our individual identity, our vital skills and passions.
“‘Who am I?’ ‘Can I connect with my peers?’ These are the central questions and concerns of adolescents. Anxiety becomes a problem when teens ‘over-read’ danger and feel threatened by social situations, exams at school, separation from family, or excessive worries about the future. When we are anxious, we don’t think well or creatively, and we can’t find pleasure in our experiences.”
What can a parent do to help their teen overcome feelings of anxiety?
“Often the most difficult thing for us to do as parents is to separate ourselves from our teen and to see him as his own person, with his own concerns. We may read our own adolescent social or academic difficulties into our teen’s struggles and not appreciate the specific difficulties our teen is facing. What we can do to be most helpful is to try to understand exactly the difficulty our teen is facing, and to try not to solve his problems'”another tempting parental pitfall'”but to help him think about his problems.
Our teen’s way of thinking is in an ongoing process of development, and he needs help both to articulate his problems and to think about the options available for solving them. One of the things that makes being a teen so painful is a deeply held conviction that the present embarrassment /rejection/failure will persist for eternity; parents can help put such painful situations in perspective.”
What type of professional help is available for a teen that frequently experiences anxiety?
“Psychotherapists can help teens sort through feelings about themselves that drive anxiety. For example, when a teen is insecure about social acceptance, she may approach social situations in a way that defeats her goal of being included; therapy can help to unpack this approach and identify what the teen is telling herself about her sense of her own value and acceptability. Likewise, with school anxiety, therapy can help to examine how the teen engages with schoolwork or with ideas she holds about her prospects for success which stir anxiety. Realistic feelings of competence and emotional security are the best foundations for success as an adult.”
What last advice would you like to leave for a parent that has a teen who is experiencing anxiety?
“Talk to your teen about what is bothering him, encouraging him to articulate the problems as he sees them. See if your conversation is helping your teen to feel calmer. If you are not able to help your teen settle down, ask him if he would like to talk with someone who is familiar with the sorts of worries that teens face. Most professionals will meet with a teen for a few visits, and will then tell the parents and the teen what they think the problems are and what kind of help would be best.”
Thank you Dr. Gordon for doing the interview on how a parent can help their teen overcome feelings of anxiety. For more information on Dr. Gordon or her work you can check out her website on www.drhollygordon.com.