Child and Teen Anxiety: Two Powerful Questions for Parents

A recent study found that parents are good at detecting whether their children might be prone to anxiety, especially if they themselves are anxious. Research done at the University of British Columbia found that when parents of young children were given a two-question test that test was 85% effective in identifying children with anxiety.

Those two questions were:

  • Is your child more shy or anxious than other children his or her age?
  • Is your child more worried than other children his or her age?

According to the research, if a parent says yes to either question, there is a high degree of predictability that the child will go on to develop an anxiety disorder. It’s normal for children and teens to feel anxiety from time to time. However, when that anxiety severely impacts their day, when it impairs their ability to form peer relationships, do well in school, or interact with his or her family, that is when there might be a psychological illness.

As children grow to be teens, that anxiety can continue to grow, especially during adolescence. And clearly, there are many reasons why a teen might feel anxious. Between finals, pressure to date and do drugs, doubts about self-identity, maintaining good grades, attempting to get into college, anxiety can be a common internal experience for adolescents.

However, as in children, when that anxiety gets in the way of functioning at home, school or work, that’s when professional treatment might be in order. That is the time to have a teen professionally assessed by a mental health expert. A psychologist or therapist can decide on a diagnosis, based on your teen’s symptoms, and then develop an appropriate treatment plan. The type of anxiety disorder will determine the type of treatment, frequency of therapy sessions and medication use, as well as the level of care.

For instance, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a diagnosis given to those who experience an excessive or unrealistic amount of worry, anxiety, and fear for at least six months. Those with GAD might experience anxiety every morning upon waking, and they may have free-floating anxiety, which is anxiety that is unrelated to a realistic, known source. For instance, a teen might feel anxious or nervous before performing in the school play, but feeling anxious for no defined reason might point to a mental health condition. An individual who carries an underlying feeling of anxiety and tension throughout the day may very well have a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Other forms of anxiety illnesses include Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Phobias.

In each of these disorders, the use of psychotherapy in teen anxiety treatment is common. A teen will experience many benefits to psychotherapy, which can be experienced one on one in individual therapy or in a group with other children his or her age with the same diagnosis. Therapy is often the venue for exploring difficulties in life that are the result of anxiety. This form of teen anxiety treatment is an extremely effective means for providing coping mechanisms, support, and stability. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an excellent treatment method for all ages.

However, it’s important to note that anxiety in children is commonly expressed differently than anxiety in teens and adults. Therefore, the various forms of treatment used might vary for children, depending on their age. For instance, medication may not be used with younger children; some clinicians may only resort to it when psychotherapy isn’t improving symptoms of anxiety.

Clinicians who reported on the study discussed above indicate that although the two questions are an excellent screener, parents should not rely on it and jump too quickly to conclusions. Instead, the answers to those questions may be used as an indication to have children and teens assessed by a mental health professional. From there, a diagnosis and treatment plan can be created to facilitate a teen’s psychological well-being.

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Child and Teen Anxiety: Two Powerful Questions for Parents

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Lucy Nguyen

Lucy Nguyen, LMFT
Medical Reviewer

Lucy Nguyen is the Executive Director at Paradigm Treatment, overseeing all clinical treatment programs across the organization's southwestern region. Her extensive experience includes working with young adults in private practice, serving as a therapist for children and teens with emotional and behavioral needs, and acting as a behavior interventionist for teens with developmental disorders. Lucy integrates cognitive-behavioral approaches with mindfulness and compassion in her work, and she is also EMDR-trained. She holds a Master of Science in Counseling from California State University, Fullerton, and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Social Behavior from the University of California, Irvine.

A recent study found that parents are good at detecting whether their children might be prone to anxiety, especially if they themselves are anxious. Research done at the University of British Columbia found that when parents of young children were given a two-question test that test was 85% effective in identifying children with anxiety.

Those two questions were:

  • Is your child more shy or anxious than other children his or her age?
  • Is your child more worried than other children his or her age?

According to the research, if a parent says yes to either question, there is a high degree of predictability that the child will go on to develop an anxiety disorder. It’s normal for children and teens to feel anxiety from time to time. However, when that anxiety severely impacts their day, when it impairs their ability to form peer relationships, do well in school, or interact with his or her family, that is when there might be a psychological illness.

As children grow to be teens, that anxiety can continue to grow, especially during adolescence. And clearly, there are many reasons why a teen might feel anxious. Between finals, pressure to date and do drugs, doubts about self-identity, maintaining good grades, attempting to get into college, anxiety can be a common internal experience for adolescents.

However, as in children, when that anxiety gets in the way of functioning at home, school or work, that’s when professional treatment might be in order. That is the time to have a teen professionally assessed by a mental health expert. A psychologist or therapist can decide on a diagnosis, based on your teen’s symptoms, and then develop an appropriate treatment plan. The type of anxiety disorder will determine the type of treatment, frequency of therapy sessions and medication use, as well as the level of care.

For instance, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a diagnosis given to those who experience an excessive or unrealistic amount of worry, anxiety, and fear for at least six months. Those with GAD might experience anxiety every morning upon waking, and they may have free-floating anxiety, which is anxiety that is unrelated to a realistic, known source. For instance, a teen might feel anxious or nervous before performing in the school play, but feeling anxious for no defined reason might point to a mental health condition. An individual who carries an underlying feeling of anxiety and tension throughout the day may very well have a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Other forms of anxiety illnesses include Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Phobias.

In each of these disorders, the use of psychotherapy in teen anxiety treatment is common. A teen will experience many benefits to psychotherapy, which can be experienced one on one in individual therapy or in a group with other children his or her age with the same diagnosis. Therapy is often the venue for exploring difficulties in life that are the result of anxiety. This form of teen anxiety treatment is an extremely effective means for providing coping mechanisms, support, and stability. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an excellent treatment method for all ages.

However, it’s important to note that anxiety in children is commonly expressed differently than anxiety in teens and adults. Therefore, the various forms of treatment used might vary for children, depending on their age. For instance, medication may not be used with younger children; some clinicians may only resort to it when psychotherapy isn’t improving symptoms of anxiety.

Clinicians who reported on the study discussed above indicate that although the two questions are an excellent screener, parents should not rely on it and jump too quickly to conclusions. Instead, the answers to those questions may be used as an indication to have children and teens assessed by a mental health professional. From there, a diagnosis and treatment plan can be created to facilitate a teen’s psychological well-being.

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