Typical Teenage Angst or Adolescent Anxiety?

Sheri Coburn

adolescent anxiety, teenage angst, youth, mental health

I don’t think it’s any secret that many of this generation’s adolescents are suffering. Many describe chronic worry, paralyzing fear of social situations, and an inability to manage the daily pressures of school, sports, or planning for their educational future.

This leaves a wake of parents, teachers, and other caring supporters asking themselves, “Is this typical teenage angst or is there a rampant increase of diagnosis-worthy adolescent anxiety?” Honestly, I don’t know.

What I do know for certain is this:
  • This generation of youth is living a life drastically different from any generation that has come before them.
  • This generation is having difficulty developing and applying the coping skills needed to navigate this new reality.
  • This generation is telling us both directly and indirectly that they need our awareness, compassion, and assistance in developing more effective coping tools to survive (literally and figuratively).

So, what now? We can’t change the harsh reality of their lives. We can’t necessarily change the fastest growing and most effective bullying tool of all time – technology. We can’t change the increased access to information, Photoshopped images of beauty, or the human-defying expectations of sport, which has created a playing field where “perfect” has replaced “best.”

Whether it’s angst or anxiety, adolescents need us, not our judgement.
And, we definitely can’t change that, at the end of the day, we really have no idea what generation Y is going through. Yes, we had bullies, but we could escape them behind closed doors. Yes, we wanted to be pretty, but we weren’t bombarded with endless images of wafer-thin supermodels. And yes, we had embarrassing moments, but they didn’t get a million hits on YouTube.

As enticing as it can be for us to analyze why the youth of today are “different” (worse?) or judge them for their seeming inability to manage “basic daily stresses,” the reality is that the analytical microscope of some well-meaning adults and the endless search for a confirmed DSM diagnosis is not what youth need. They need help, and not after we diagnose them – they need it now.

Although we cannot fully understand what youth are experiencing, there are things we can do to help them navigate the pitfalls of the modern world.

The next time we know or suspect a youth is struggling, let’s try this:
  • Recognize that we are assessing their experience from the comfortable wisdom of our adult life while they are living it with the intensity of adolescent life.
  • Remind ourselves (and admit to them) that, as adults, we can only imagine how hard this indulgent and intrusive technologically-driven adolescent life is.
  • Validate that this life is hard (yup, we have to admit it) and this level of angst or anxiety or whatever we want to call it can’t be totally unexpected.
  • Reassure them that we are committed to figuring this out with them with or without a diagnosis.
  • Assist them in creating healthier boundaries with technology, building safe support networks, learning to identify and celebrate their strengths, recognizing the importance of downtime, and building their confidence and capacity to problem solve.

Let’s do a quick recap – youth are struggling and life is Different. Whether it’s angst or anxiety, adolescents need us, not our judgement. We don’t need to have lived it to be empathetic and offer supportive guidance.


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Author: Sheri Coburn (MSW, RSW)
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

Sheri is the editor and co-author of CTRI’s book, Counselling Insights: Practical Strategies for Helping Others with Anxiety, Trauma, Grief, and More. The book is available on our website.

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