How To Stop Worrying About Everything Your Teen Does & Focus On What Really Matters
With each developmental stage a child reaches, new challenges reveal themselves. Right about the time we establish a routine that works, a new phase emerges. This is just how it goes: we worry because we care. With each new phase comes new adjustments and challenges, leaving us often wondering how to stop worrying about it all.
When kids reach school age, our worries shift from supporting their physical development to their cognitive and social development. Then, we wake up one day and our kids are adolescents with a whole new set of needs and developmental challenges.
With adolescence, we transition to a supporting role, being there to encourage and pick up the pieces when needed.
Hormones change their physical bodies every day, and neural connections multiply fast, at a rate comparable to those of an infant.
A time of creativity and power, adolescence can also be a time of “great boundary pushing that can be challenging and create catastrophes,” writes psychologist Daniel Siegel in Brainstorm. “But this pushing back propensity can also be a remarkably positive, essential part of our lives.”
Teens tend to push away from their parents and toward their peers as they begin to define the adults they will become. As life gets increasingly complicated by increasing demands and responsibilities, adolescents must step up, make their own decisions, and face their own consequences.
At this stage of parenting, we can no longer do for our kids what we once could – we instinctively know they must do more for themselves. But this doesn’t necessarily come easily. Worry is always part of this mix.
How can we not worry when our child gets behind the wheel of a car? Or goes out on his or her first date? And now, we even worry about our relationship with our teen, and whether we are doing it right. There are so many things to worry about as parents that it can be easy to feel like our worry is taking over our life.
But worry can also alert us to the need to loosen our grip, respect their boundaries, and allow our emerging adults to earn our trust.
We want our teens to grow into responsible adults, and anxiety can help remind us to back off when we overstep and try to control too much. What really matters is that our teens grow and develop in to the young adults they are becoming. And they need our support, not our control, as they pull away, stumble, and succeed on their own terms.
Part of our job as parents of teenagers is to learn how to stop worrying about everything our teen does, and focus instead on what’s most important and what we can actually control. We need practice at smartly backing off when our children are facing growth opportunities they can handle, while also knowing when to step in and provide support.
Finding this balance can be especially challenging when we are prone to worry in general, making it easy to doubt ourselves and our parenting instincts. However, it is possible – and made a bit easier – when we can keep work these five steps below:
Recognizing when and how your worry is happening is the first step to being able to harness it for productive parenting. Simply activating your curiosity and noticing your experience when you are feeling worried can help enormously. Understanding what is happening to you also delivers a needed sense of control.
Worry and anxiety about our teenagers can take many forms and operate at varying levels of intensity.
When you think about your anxiety, ask yourself at what volume you experience it. Does it yell at you? Does it whisper? Is it more of a constant chatter, like background noise?
When we are curious about the volume of our worry, we can better identify what it is that we are feeling, and find the vocabulary we need to understand our experience.
Once you have identified some of the ways worry speaks to you, you are ready to understand more about its context: where, when, and how you feel it. Look to identify patterns, causes, themes, and a bigger picture for your worry about your teen. This will set you up for the steps ahead.
2. Identifying worry
Worry can be overwhelming when it comes to our children, even if they are emerging adults. We want to protect them, and understandably worry when we feel unable to. It can be incredibly uncomfortable to face the changing landscape of our parenting roles, but doing so helps us. When we recognize the discomfort and face our worries, we become stronger, better parents. We feel motivated to take action to make our worry stop.
You can begin to identify worry by writing or talking about it. When you do, you will notice your experience starts to change. This is you “processing” your experience.
As we express our feelings, they become more clarified and distilled, and in turn diminish in intensity.
As the intensity of our worry decreases, more of our thinking resources become available to address the problem we sense.
3. Sorting worry
Worrying about our teens is normal, but not all our worries are worth our full attention. Attending to irrational fears at the expense of rational ones isn’t hard to do since our teens are out in the world exposed to so much more than they once were.
This is where sorting comes in. Take the common fear of your teen getting behind the wheel of a car. It’s rational to worry and to make sure you do what is necessary to help them learn to drive and keep themselves safe behind the wheel. It’s not rational to worry that they will never learn to drive, or fixate on them having an accident.
A key to stop worrying about everything your teen does is to tease out the reasonable from the unreasonable. It’s not always a straightforward process – and it can change daily or even hourly with the rate with which teens change – but aiming to focus on reasonable concerns can help keep you focused on what’s important so you can let the rest go.
4. Determining action
Once we have sorted through things and know which worrisome issues need to be focused on, we can begin identifying potential solutions. Fortunately, the solutions often stem from understanding the root of the worry.
The solutions you come up with should be within your control. A sense of control is critical to dampening worry and identifying effective action.
In this stage it is important to brainstorm as many possible solutions as possible. Doing so will allow you to prioritize solutions and determine which makes the most sense and allow you to do your best parenting.
5. Taking action
Once determining the best way to resolve your worry, it is time to take action – even if it is not easy to do. Do you need to sit down and have a heart-to-heart about alcohol use, consensual sex, or some other uncomfortable topic? Don’t put it off until you feel comfortable – you may never stop worrying until you do something brave. Taking action is the only way to resolve worries that need to be addressed.
As parents, worry accompanies the transition to every new development stage as we are stretched to grow as parents just as our children are. Part of being a parent is recognizing we will never stop worrying about our children. But worry doesn’t have to be unhealthy.
But knowing how to stop worrying about every little thing can be a powerful tool in getting a handle on our own worry, and allowing our teens the space they need to make their own decisions, face the consequences of those decisions, and grow. Not does this model healthy anxiety management for our teens, but it also bolsters their own confidence, sending the critical message that we believe in them, and trust their capacity to take control of their own lives.
Looking for more help in understanding adolescent anxiety? Check out my book Hack Your Anxiety full of ways to take control of anxiety from years in the trenches and the latest science, along with two chapters dedicated to support and parenting. Or post a comment here to continue the conversation.
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