Figuring her out, my anxious teenager 

anxious teenager mother

My 12-year-old daughter is experiencing extreme anxiety. She describes her symptoms as waking up at night and being unable  to get back to sleep, an inability to concentrate at school because she’s exhausted by lack of sleep, a decrease in appetite and hyperventilating if she’s put on the spot at school. She believes this anxiety is caused by academic pressure at school and “that her whole life is just school, school, school”.

My first response was to think that it may have something to do with her spending too much time on her phone, so I limited her access to screen time and made sure her phone wasn’t in her room at night. Despite her resistance to these measure, the result has been that she’s more present and in the world. She reads and has started drawing large charcoal portraits without being prompted by me. BUT it hasn’t helped diminish school anxiety.

 Subsequent to the screen time limits, she came to me  and said “I need help” so I got her help. I went to see the principal of her school and I found her a therapist. We also got some tools. We chose a pink Himalayan salt lamp to cast a spiritual rosy glow over her bedroom at night, some essential oils that supposedly alleviate anxiety for her nightly bath, a soft cushion to cuddle at night and a stash of rescue remedy pastels to keep in her school bag.

I also realised my mounting anxiety in relation to my daughter was not helping the situation. I know I need to be her safe container – to feel her dread but to retain a balance of mind and not go to pieces when she panics. With the help of my therapist, I’m getting better at managing this.  

In a month or so we’re going to have a group session with my daughter and her therapist to decide on a way forward together. This may mean changing schools if staying in a mainstream environment traumatizes her further. Knowing of course that this will not be a magic panacea and that she’s going to have to learn ways to manage her anxiety.

I don’t believe that medication is an option. She’s too young and my research shows that anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication can cause irreversible chemical and structural changes to the body and brain in growing adolescents. I am alarmed at how many of her girlfriends are depressed and/or anxious and are on medication for it. Are they being medicated to survive the school system? Or is there something deeper and sadder playing out in their social media lives?

It’s going to be a long journey with my young daughter and I don’t see any quick fixes. The world is more complicated, and paradoxically with increased connectivity the risk of disconnection and alienation increases. Social media and school in its current form are here to stay – we are going to have to learn ways to manage them both creatively .

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Kate Shand

Kate Shand

Kate Shand is the mother of four children. After the suicide of her son, she wrote a book called BOY. She works as a freelance writer and editor. When asked to, she gives talks on Grief and Creativity. 

4 Responses

  1. I’ve definitely had challenges with my kids, but something that has worked well for me is to take the time when they make a mistake and use it as a learning opportunity.

    I went to a site called and they have a video that talks about how to teach kids life skills…

    In essence, I find out what mistake they’ve made; I often share a story about how I struggled with it; I relate why it’s important to something my kids find important; and then I let my kids talk about how they would do something different and we have a discussion.

    I’ve learned more about my two boys in the last 8 months than I thought possible!

  2. Hi Kate, I am a mom and a life coach. My children are not teenagers yet but I am well aware of the struggles of children and youth today, having to deal with school and homework, peer pressure, etc. With so much emphasis on social media and the ever reported celebrity coverage, it’s no wonder kids and teens feel so much pressure to belong and ‘fit in’. They find it difficult to relax and just be themselves.
    I offer an emotional intelligence program for kids and teens between the ages of 6 and 19 to help build kids self-awareness, self-esteem and improve their relationships with others. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is also has great tools for helping people to deal with anxiety and negative thought patterns.

  3. Hey Kate. My older son, now 21, has struggled with anxiety for years. It’s been a long journey and he still gets help, probably will for life. But the best thing he did when he was younger (around 14) was see a cognitive behavioural therapist. It was just six sessions where she taught him to recognise the symptoms (panic attack symptoms) and how to deal with them. Those six sessions have been invaluable. He learned how to breathe, calm himself down and understand what was happening, how to calm down and breathe the panic away. It doesn’t take it away, long term, but helps in the immediate panic situation.
    And thanks. Excellent article.

  4. dearest Kate. beautiful article and as always your writing connects to me in such a deep manner. I understand your journey having gone through it for many years with my daughter. And i believe that is such a personal journey with such difficult personal choices…what I do want to add is my perspective on medication. As you know I resisted medication for my child for the longest time and did a number of alternative therapies which did not seem to abate her anxiety.When I eventually made the difficult decision to put her onto medication I waited with bated breath to see the miracle start to work. I was desperate to be able to help her. And slowly but surely it did. This was not a miracle cure but what it did was give her a place of balance to draw strength from. I also realised that I was making decisions based on my own feelings of anxiety around her and medication and not what would benefit her right now. I am lucky I am with a psychiatrist that is conservative with medication and I that I trust. She also said something that resonated with me- my daughter is old enough now to deal with the meds but young enough to change the chemistry in her brain so in time she will no longer need it. This however is the most difficult and personal choice and I wish you luck in your journey.

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