Anxiety in Teens & How You Can Help

Navigating anxiety in teenagers can be challenging. Coach Richard Andrews outlines key symptoms to watch for and offers practical guidance to support your teen effectively.

We're all anxious from time to time, but how can we know if our children's anxiety is something more? Anxiety in children can be caused by many factors including: bereavement or other traumatic events; changes such as moving house, starting a new school or conflict at home or within their friendship circle. Another major factor in teen mental health is social media and its effects on their self-esteem, relationships, and behaviour. Constant exposure to curated content, comparison with others, cyberbullying, and the pressure to maintain an online image can contribute to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and depression. Moreover, excessive screen time can disrupt sleep patterns and hinder real-life social interactions.

On a biological front, teenagers often become more socially anxious as they come to terms with the changes that are happening to them and, of course, some people are just naturally more anxious.

In children and teens, anxiety can play out as:

  • Being clingy
  • Overly irritable
  • Crying and worrying
  • Sleep problems, including bad dreams, waking up in the night and even reverting to wetting the bed
  • Appearing angry
  • Being unwilling to try new things, even if they seem simple to you
  • Social withdrawal
  • Avoidance behaviours
  • Having negative thoughts
  • Changes in appetite
  • Panick attacks

Of course, any of these symptoms could be part of the normal behaviour of any child, but if they are severe, persistent and interfere with your teen’s normal daily life (or your normal, daily life!), it might be time to some action. Here are some ideas for giving emotional support that might help, and a few practical tips:

Emotional Support

Acknowledge their feelings - Rather than try to convince them not to be anxious, let them know that it's ok for them to feel the way they do and that you understand.

Reassure them - Let your child know that you're there to listen and to help.

Ask them what they think might help - Remember, you don't have to have all the answers - teenagers can often come up with ideas to help themselves if you encourage them. Sometimes just opening up the conversation can help.

Don't avoid difficult situations – Unfortunately, avoiding the situations that cause anxiety won't help in the long run. Avoidance sends a message that anxiety will prevent them from doing normal things like everyone else. Instead, try to help them focus on their feelings, and encourage them to talk about them. This should gradually help to build their resilience.

Practical Tips

Keep the worries in their place - Encourage your child to have a particular time of day to think about their worries. Some children may wish to draw or write them down and put them away in a box. If they like writing they may value keeping a diary, thinking about how they have felt during the day: when was it bad and when was it ok, and what made it like that? All these tips can help your child feel more in control of their anxiety.

Help your teen to become more aware of when they are beginning to feel anxious - Encouraging them to spot the signs puts them more in control and gives them a better chance of seeking help.

Recognise that the anxiety comes and goes - Help your child to understand that the anxiety is not constant - it arrives, but also passes. Once they recognise that the anxiety will eventually disappear again, it becomes easier to deal with and manage.

Don't inadvertently feed their anxiety - Ask: "How do you feel about the test?", not "Are you worried about the test?"

Talk about the worry and make a plan - Work through the situation and think about what might happen - make a plan. If your child is worried that you will be late picking them up from school, ask them to think about what they would do. Perhaps they would speak to the duty teacher who would be able to look after them until you arrive or perhaps give you a call. Again, having a plan puts your child more in control.

Talk about something else - Distracting your child by talking about something else can help. Simple games can help keep their mind off their anxiety.

Use breathing to calm down - Try breathing deeply and slowly with your child - this is known to have a soothing effect.

Focus on positives - Particularly at bedtime, it can be helpful to make a point of talking about good things. Ask what made your child happy that day or about something that they may be looking forward to, like a day out.

Give them a hug - It usually helps!

If your child's anxiety does not improve, despite trying these techniques, consider seeking professional help: It will probably be helpful to liaise with staff at your child's school, particularly the Guidance Teacher or School Nurse. You also may want to consider getting advice from your GP.


Following a career in The City, Richard became a full-time executive coach. He has also volunteered as a call-taker at Parentline for more than 16 years.