Parents are right to be concerned about children’s anxiety levels; the holidays can be a particularly hard time to find emotional balance.
Our country has seen a dramatic increase in anxiety over the last several years, particularly in teenagers. In my work as a school leader it is clear our nation’s students have more day-to-day anxiety. It is complicated to find the source and causes. Some pick it up from issues at home, while others seem predisposed to chronic worrying. Put simply, we are living in a society that is far too tense, and the effects of this are plaguing us in both glaring and subtle ways.
Where does anxiety come from? There are many theories that range from the breakdown of the American family, a shift to eating less fresh food, film and television roles that portray perfect characters and dynamics that are unattainable, and how technology and social media conspire to make us “selfie perfect” and ever-vulnerable. Whatever the causes, anxiety is greater than in the past.
What does it look like to the adults standing in the halls of our schools? Anxiety has made for less confident teens that are more introverted and shy. There are more anecdotes of kids “shutting down” over benign issues. Traditionally social spaces are quieter and dominated by fewer voices. Negative self-talk is not only happening in the minds of teens, but frequently being stated out loud. In recent years, I have found myself needing to give students more and more affirmations- I need to act as a mirror and tell students about the talents I see in them that they seem to minimize.
The tricky question is: What can we do to help? While not an exhaustive list, I would begin by being careful with our use of “all or nothing” language. Most teens overestimate the importance of events like high stakes testing or prom; they do not need dramatic qualifiers from us. Also, highlight effort over results. Find ways to focus on the work ethic involved in the process of school or other tasks rather than what needs to get done. Remind them that small failures are necessary on the road to success (Google the words “Michael Jordan Failure” for some great conversation starters). Finally, make sure they do not abandon taking meaningful breaks from work (this is different than procrastination), preferably doing something physical and with others.
Anxiety is an unwelcome guest dwelling within our schools daily. However, with some coordinated intervention from parents and teachers I believe that we can help lower it in coming years. Here at The Norman Howard School, we offer expertise in helping students manage school-based and general anxiety with strategies that include:
Ongoing communication between home and school
Direct instruction for self-advocacy
Individualized plans for anxiety-related problem solving
Let's take a deep breath, acknowledge anxiety where you see it, and highlight the journey rather than the destination of life.
A version of this essay was featured as a guest column in the Democrat & Chronicle on Sunday, December 18, 2016.
<<Please view it here: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/opinion/guest-column/2016/12/18/teen-anxiety-rise/95580012/ >>
Paul D. Keller, III
585-210-4661 x 305