An Open Letter to Every Anxious Parent of a Teen

06/17/2015 12:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2016
Marcel ter Bekke via Getty Images

Dear Parents,

If you have a teen or teens then I am quite confident that you are more than just a little consumed by worry and anxiety. This is an inevitable part of being parents to children who are at the age where they test limits and as a result put you in the unenviable position of having to push back. What a tricky set of dance steps you have to deal with during these years. This is much more complicated than the simple box step. It's more like a complicated tango where everyone is stepping on each others toes. #YIKES. There are several teen years that you will need to deal with. I would really be distressed if you developed somatic symptoms or other stress-related symptoms because of your anxiety. In an effort to help prevent that I am going to give you some ways to think about parenting, teens, and anxiety that may help you settle down a bit. I know all about the hot rush of anxiety symptoms that flood the entire body. I see parents of teens every day and I too am a mother who has experienced pangs of anxiety that have either left me feeling immobilized and helpless or frenetic and just a little bit crazy.

Here are some tips that might reduce your anxiety. They are worth a try. Believe me.

1. Simply worrying does NOT reduce the likelihood that something upsetting may occur. I, like other parents, used to believe that if I worried enough than there would be no mishaps and no unsettling phone calls or news. These days I think of that way of thinking as a bit superstitious in nature. Worry does not equal prevention. Close your eyes and repeat that ten times. Worry does not equal prevention. Caution may but worry does not.

2. Keep in mind that there will be ups and downs in this journey of raising teens. If it was all smooth sailing then I would worry that you are not really in touch with teen life and the entire set of stressors that they have to deal with including peer pressure, hormonal upheaval and developing their own unique identity. You should be aware of what is going on in their lives, curious and available. Keep in mind that excessive anxiety may cloud your judgment and lead you to think the worst. That is not a healthy way of thinking.

3. Your teen may be reluctant to talk to you if they think that you are going to panic and "freak out." Teens will be more open with you if they feel that you can handle what they tell you. And, handling things means listening calmly. Look -- you may feel like you want to panic but you must act calm. Fake it if you must. The hope is that eventually you will actually start to calm down if you fake it enough. The old saying "fake it until you make it" is particularly appropriate here. Practice acting calmer and you make actually start feeling calmer.

And finally,

4. If your teens sense that you are tied up in knots of anxiety about them then you are at high risk to instill doubt in their teenage brains. Many teens have told me that they are full of self-doubt in part because their parents don't believe in them. It would be foolish for me to tell you to always believe in and trust your teens but it is crucial that you give them the message that you mostly believe in them. Excessive anxiety conveys nothing but fear, anxiety and self-doubt.

I wish you luck during this part of the parenting journey. Talk to your friends who also have teens. Instead of stirring each other up I implore you to try instead to support each other with positivity, levity and looking out for each others kids.