Is your teen a highly sensitive person? Some children are very sensitive and their parents find that they need extra help when it comes to balancing their emotions, relating to other people, and feeling good about themselves. These highly sensitive children often grow into highly sensitive teens. Teenagers have a lot more responsibilities and expectations to live up to, and their parents and teachers are generally not in the position to give them the same levels of guidance they required as younger children. If you are the parent of a teen who’s a highly sensitive person, read on for tips on how to handle various issues that your teen might be dealing with while helping him or her to grow toward adulthood.
Signs of Being a Highly Sensitive Person
You might have known for some time that your child was highly sensitive. Or you might just be realizing now that he or she doesn’t always react to things the way other teens do. If you notice these signs in your teen, he or she might be a highly sensitive person:
- They are introverted – Most highly sensitive people tend to recharge when alone, and spending time with other people tends to drain them.
- They are shy or socially anxious.
- They deal with other forms of anxiety, as well depression.
- They tend to feel strong emotions – Where you might react by brushing off a perceived slight by an acquaintance, for example, your teen might react strongly, showing anger, sadness, and self-doubt.
- They take it very hard when there’s a disagreement with a friend or when a teacher is disappointed in them.
- They intuitively read other people’s feelings.
- They amplify feelings – If you are mildly irritated about something your teen has done, he or she might think that you’re furious.
Your Teen’s Anxiety
Your teenager might suffer from anxiety brought on by a highly sensitive personality. Part of this is because they are often afraid that others are judging them. Another part is that they sometimes engage in worst-case-scenario thinking. Instead of assuming that a friend simply forgot to return a text or that their phone was turned off, your teen might worry that the friend has been in a serious car accident or that they are angry and not speaking to them. Parents can help their highly sensitive teen manage anxiety using these tips:
Talk your teen through this type of thinking. Ask what the worst-case scenario is, then ask how likely it is that that is what’s actually happening. Talk about past times when a friend hasn’t returned a text. Was it because they were angry or in an accident, or was it because they forgot, didn’t notice the text, or had their phone battery die?
Help your teen find ways to relax. Relaxation techniques can help your teen calm down and put things into perspective. These can include:
- Deep breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
Your Teen’s Depression
Some teens who are highly sensitive develop depression. This can happen because they feel like no one really understands them. In addition, they’re under a lot of pressure from their strong emotions. Some signs of depression include:
- Appetite changes
- Insomnia or too much sleeping
- A loss of interest in the things that they used to enjoy
- Withdrawal from friends
- A drop in school performance
Some depressed teens also develop physical symptoms like frequent headaches, fatigue, and stomachaches.
If you think that your teen might be depressed, seek help. In severe cases, depression can lead to suicide attempts. You can go to your teen’s physician, who will refer you to a counselor or therapist. If you think your teen is in imminent danger, don’t be afraid to call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room.
Dealing With Your Teen’s Stress
A teen who is a highly sensitive person might have a hard time handling all of the responsibilities that go along with adolescence. Teens are expected to do well in school, participate in extracurricular activities, and sometimes hold down a part-time job. In addition, most teens have a healthy social life and family obligations, and some teens date. That’s a lot on anyone’s plate, and for the highly sensitive teen, it might feel like too much.
Help your teen prioritize his or her responsibilities and schedule his or her time. Block out time for school, sleep, and shared meals with the family then help him or her arrange their schedule to accommodate studying, work, sports and clubs, chores, volunteer work, and anything else that needs to fit into a busy week. Encourage your teen to keep an open mind; sometimes, creating a schedule shows that there are simply not enough hours in the day to do all that they want to accomplish. Help your teen decide what must stay and what can be eliminated.
Tips for Managing Social Anxiety
Many teenagers have social anxiety, and sensitive teens, in particular, can have overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety when it comes to relating to other people. They might be fearful of new social situations, of crowds, of social gatherings, and of getting in front of the class to give a report or even to ask a question.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help teens overcome social anxiety. Your teen’s therapist can help guide him or her through the thought process required to speak to others without anxiety. It might also help to talk to your teen about the reality that most teens think that others are thinking about them when, in fact, they are not. This can be something that highly sensitive teenagers have trouble understanding.
As the parent of a highly sensitive person, it’s important that you take the time to talk to your teenager about what’s going on in his or her life. Be aware of the signs of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Encourage your teen to engage in self-care such as eating well, sleeping enough, and getting exercise each day. If needed, seek professional help. Remember that the skills your teen learns now will help him or her cope with being a sensitive adult for years and decades to come.