I was at a retreat for teenagers a few months ago and saw a central theme throughout the group. Student after student shared deep, personal struggles about home life, school, and social pressures. While each kid shared a story, the rest of the group nodded their heads in agreement. I heard one word over and over: anxiety.
While anxiety is a buzzword lately, I have some important insights for parents. I learned the truth about the teens who struggle with it. The reality is that there is a lot of anxiety caused by parents. You may be to blame, in your teens’ eyes, for some of the anxious thoughts and struggles they face.
1. You haven’t established boundaries.
Your teens may not say this, but they want rules and boundaries. Lack of boundaries leaves them directionless. Boundaries help teens to know they are not alone. Boundaries help them learn and grow while having you as a safety net. Anxiety caused by parents comes in when teens feel like the boundaries are too tight or too loose.
What you should do: Evaluate your boundaries. Do you have any unspoken boundaries? Communicate them clearly to your teens. Your boundaries should help your teens develop into adults. When they are centered upon development, your home becomes a refuge, not a prison.
2. You care too much about what other parents think.
“Every failure is an opportunity to teach and train your kids.”
Too many times, parents react to a situation out of fear of what their neighbors or friends might think of them as parents. But that shouldn’t be the default. When you sweep problems under the rug or react a certain way to maintain your own image, you do more damage than good for your teenager. The same is true when our kids are doing well in school or sports. Sometimes, we pressure them to keep performing so dad can keep looking good in front of his friends. Both situations result in anxiety caused by parents.
What you should do: Every failure is an opportunity to teach and train your kids. When you focus on the problem instead of on your reputation, you communicate that your kids are more important.
3. You broke their trust.
One of the students at the retreat revealed that he had shared some of his struggles with his dad. They had a great conversation and the son felt encouraged afterward—until the following Sunday. At church, one of his dad’s friends came up to him and said, “I’m sorry about what you are going through.” To be fair, the boy’s dad probably had sought some advice from his friend. But his friend stepped out of line and the experience broke the boy’s trust. The teen no longer talks to his dad about problems because he feels like his dad tells everyone. The teen had major anxiety about whether his dad talks about him behind his back.
What you should do: If you do find yourself having broken your kids’ trust, the best thing to do is apologize. A simple “I’m sorry” can go a long way. Trust is necessary for healthy communication and you want your kids to feel comfortable confiding in you.
4. You talk down about things they love.
For most teenagers, identity is unhealthily wrapped up in what they love and are part of. So when we make fun of what they care about or talk down about what they enjoy, they feel personally attacked. As parents, we must help our kids see that their identity is not based on what they enjoy doing. We also need to accept that we don’t have to squash their joy if we don’t like what they like.
What you should do: Get over yourself and show interest in what your kids care about. If you aren’t passionate about it, find some common ground and be intentional with the time you have left to spend with them. Reiterate that their identity isn’t found in what they do.
5. You won’t let them fail.
We have created a culture focused on winning and success. Don’t get me wrong—I love to win. But it is OK to fail and if you haven’t told your teen that yet, you should. When they think they can’t fail because dad will be mad, they do everything from a place of anxiety.
What you should do: Failure is an opportunity to teach our kids resilience. Our job as dads is not to protect our teens from failure but to show them how to learn and get better because of failure.
Sound off: What are some other things we might be doing to cause anxiety in our kids?
HUDDLE UP QUESTION
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What is one thing I have done that has caused you anxiety?”