Parenting teenagers: recognising and responding to anxiety

13-19 years

Anxiety is a natural response that happens when you feel scared or worried. It's your body's way of reacting to stress or danger. Adolescence, with its new physical and emotional challenges, often brings about anxiety as a normal reaction. 

Common factors that can contribute to anxiety in teenagers may involve: 

  • Relationships with friends, family, or partners 
  • School or exams 
  • Body changes and physical health 
  • Bullying or abuse  
  • Coping with grief and loss or trauma 
  • Struggling with sexuality or gender identity 
  • Social media influences 

As a parent, you may be the first person to notice signs of anxiety in your teenager, like anger, withdrawal, or heightened emotions. 

What does anxiety look like?

anxious teenager sitting by his bed

Sometimes teenagers find it difficult to express themselves. This can come across as displays of anger or saying and doing things they don’t mean. 

As a parent, spotting early signs of anxiety in your teenager helps you know if they are feeling worried or stressed. When you recognise these signs, talking to your teenager and offering support can make them feel better.  

Early recognition ensures they get the support they need and positively affects their overall well-being.  

Common symptoms of anxiety can include: 

  • Avoiding social situations or withdrawal from friends or family 
  • Having trouble sleeping 
  • Loss of appetite or overeating  
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate or focus 
  • Feeling tired and grumpy 
  • Decline in academic performance or refusing to go to school 
  • Perfectionism and fear of making mistakes 
  • Excessive screen time as a coping strategy 
  • Excessive worry or fear about the future

It’s important to remember that everyone experiences anxiety differently. These signs may show in various ways in your teenager and can sometimes escalate to the point of causing panic attacks.

What are panic attacks?

A panic attack is an intense rush of fear or anxiety, and may include one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Racing heart or palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath or feelings of choking
  • Dizziness, trembling or shaking
  • Numbness or a tingling sensation
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Fear of dying or losing control

A panic attack can be extremely distressing, especially if the person doesn’t realise that their symptoms are due to anxiety.

Some teenagers may experience a more significant level of anxiety, which may result in risk-taking behaviours and/or hurting themselves. If this happens to your teenager, it is important to seek help and additional support via your GP and specialised services.

The good news is that anxiety is something teenagers can overcome or, at the very least, learn to manage. 

Helping your teenager manage their anxiety

Support and understanding are important for your teenager as they navigate their emotions. Recognise that your teen is figuring things out. Their words and actions may stem from feelings of anxiety or awkwardness.

Creating a supportive environment

During stressful times, be kind to yourself and remember that parents are human too. We may not always respond to our teenager’s behaviour in the best way. On these occasions, try to: 

  • Give each other space
  • Keep communication open
  • Create a safe space for them to express their feelings without judgement
  • Let your teenager know that it's okay to feel anxious
  • Reassure them that you are there to support them unconditionally

Teach your teenager healthy ways to cope with their anxiety

teenage girl writes in journal

A balanced lifestyle plays a significant role in managing anxiety. Encourage your teenager to: 

  • Keep a daily diary or journal listing the positives in their day, reminding them that good things are happening in their lives.
  • Set small and realistic goals each day. Celebrate any achievements along the way.
  • Engage in any exercise that raises your heart rate to release endorphins which make us feel happy. 
  • Go outside in nature. Even a short daily walk can make a difference.

Our blog article What is Anxiety: A Guide for Young People explains why we can often feel anxious and provides helpful advice and coping strategies.

Barnardo’s webpages also have further information and support: 

Further resources

Childline is a free, private, and confidential service provided by the NSPCC where children and teenagers can talk about anything.

The Mix is the UK’s leading support service for young people under 25. They help young people take on any challenge they are facing.

Mind provides information on how to get help and support for your teenager and useful contacts.

No Panic is a registered charity which helps people who suffer from Panic Attacks, Phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, and other related anxiety disorders. No Panic also provides support for the carers of people who suffer from anxiety disorders.

Spring is a service intended to empower parents and carers with non-judgmental advice and step-by-step support around looking after your child’s mental well-being.

Young Minds information on anxiety in teenagers and provides a free 24/7 crisis support text service. Text YM to 85258. 

Last updated on 15 January 2024