photo of a teenage girl standing on an empty road smiling at camera

How to Help Your Anxious Teen Through The College Application Process

When looking back at our teenage years, we may only see carefree days and great times with our friends. When living through our teenage years, though, things were certainly more complex. Teens are attempting to navigate social shifts, academic pressures, and physical changes. Being a teen is often fun, but it’s not without a fair amount of challenges. For example, the college application process is stressful, especially if you’re already anxious.

One minute, your teen is goofing around with friends in the high school cafeteria. Then suddenly, They’re being asked to make decisions that can shape the rest of their life. Your support is essential.

This is a Chance to Enhance Your Communication and Connection

Yes, there’s pressure, and yes, such pressure is amplified if your teen is struggling with anxiety. But you can lighten their load by focusing on how exciting this all is at the same time. Be there to help them celebrate their successes and milestones along the way. Cheer them on as they do the hard work!

The college application process presents you both with an ideal opportunity to practice healthy communication. Talk about expectations, fears, dreams, and plans. Listen carefully when your child expresses their concerns and their goals. Sure, teens can reject parental input at times but your support is a source of comfort for them — whether they acknowledge that or not. Some suggestions along those interpersonal lines:

  • Learn About Anxiety: Educate yourself about anxiety disorders so you can provide specific, useful support.
  • Encourage Self-Care: Sometimes, teens reject healthy habits as a form of rebellion. Do what you can to help them recognize that self-care is a bulwark against anxiety.
  • Give Them Room: It’s tempting to do too much and take too much control. But this is a giant step toward their independence so treat it as such.

photo of a teenage girl standing on an empty road smiling at cameraSome Practical Ways to Help Your Anxious Teen Through The College Application Process

When anxiety is present, even the smallest tasks can appear overwhelming. One of the most powerful ways to support your teen is through practical, material advice, e.g.

  • Get An Early Start: Create a timetable, keep track of deadlines, and maintain a checklist. This goes a long way in alleviating stress as they move along the process.
  • Break Big Tasks Into Small Tasks: Anxiety disorders can make anyone feel inept and inadequate. By taking on applications step by step, your teen gets to move at a healthy pace and feel a sense of accomplishment over and over. It can be very satisfying to check things off a to-do list.
  • Manage Expectations: There are countless factors at play here. Whether or not your child gets into their top choice can be an arbitrary decision. So, do what you can to keep expectations high but not unrealistic. Emphasize that finding a good match is far more important than chasing prestige. Guide them as they prepare their list — from primary choices to backup options to safety schools.
  • Do Research as a Team: Depending on how many schools your child is aiming for, the background work can feel daunting. Offer to take on some basic, even mundane tasks. When it comes to college visits, do everything in your power to be part of these trips while still giving your teen room to explore.

Take Anxiety Seriously

All the preparations in the world don’t change the reality that anxiety can be a diagnosable disorder. Your teen is navigating a very tricky time of life and needs all the support they can get. If you think they might benefit from speaking to a professional, I invite you to reach out and learn more about making that happen in teen counseling.

photo of a teenage girl standing on an empty road smiling at camera

Skills To Teach Your Teen As They Inch Closer To Adulthood

Teenagers are busy. Besides schoolwork, they may have extracurricular activities and maybe stye play a sort or two. On top of that, there are part-time jobs, a social life, and dating. All this is happening as they niche ever closer to adulthood. So, when are they developing the skills that will benefit them in everyday ways very soon?

This is where parents can fill the gap. Amidst all the chaos of teen life, time and efforts must be allocated to adulting. The skills your child acquires now can serve them for decades. Therefore, this is the epitome of time well spent.

Start With the Basics

Some examples include:

  • Keep it Clean: This goes for personal hygiene, of course. But also, there are your child’s living space, cars, etc. Learning how to do laundry fits right into this category.
  • Nourish Yourself: After a childhood of assuming food is simply found in the fridge, your teen must develop fundamental skills like smart shopping, making healthy choices, cooking and following a recipe, and more.
  • Repairs: No one should expect every teen to be handy or a tech wizard. But it can save a lot of time and money if they can handle minor repairs around the house along with their devices and their car.
  • Paperwork and Red Tape: Can they use their phone and computers safely without getting phished or scammed? How about applying for a job, apartment hunting, maintaining a credit card, and starting a bank account?

All of the above will offer relief and solace over and over as they ease into adulthood. However, some skills are less tangible but equally as important.

photo of a teenage girl standing on an empty road smiling at camera2 More Skills To Teach Your Teen As They Inch Closer To Adulthood

1. Relationships, Interactions, and Communication

As a teen embraces more and more independence, they will have more and more people in their lives. From partners to friends to roommates to bosses and beyond. They’ll need to learn how to set boundaries, have adult conversations, and manage a schedule. In addition, there will be this inevitable time when disagreements strike.

2. Dealing With Conflict

Conflict resolution is as valuable a skill as anything mentioned in this post. A key to thriving as an adult is emotional regulation. When difficulties arise, young adults can’t just storm off to their room and slam the door. They have to name their emotions, own up to their accountability, and learn ways to resolve challenges. As with #1 above, tools like this can be discovered via therapy.

What This Process Means For You

It’s never easy to watch your child struggle. You have to let go — at least a little — and that can seem impossible. But your responsibility as a parent is to walk that fine line of offering support while granting your teen autonomy. Hovering over their lives too long is not healthy for either of you but the same goes for cutting the cord too quickly. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If your teen is moving out, keep room for them to return for comforting
  • Set up a schedule for talking on the phone and meeting in person
  • Allow both of you to set boundaries as to how much input is too much
  • Be wary of offering unsolicited advice (except in emergencies)
  • Give them space to learn tough lessons

At the end of the day, both parent and child are navigating new territory. Neither of you has done this before so don’t expect to just come up with all the right answers. Consulting with a therapist is a proven path toward smoothing this tricky process. So, if you need help preparing your teen, we’re here to help you do so.

Reach out to learn about teen counseling.

photo of a teenage boy sitting on a couch who looks angry

Tips for Parenting Your Moody Teenager

Most teenagers defy analysis. They’re an unpredictable bundle of peer pressure, hormones, and energy. Thus, if your teen starts getting moody, you may not even flinch. To you, it’s just the latest of an endless parade of new personas. But then this moody thing sticks around longer than expected. Are they depressed? Could they be keeping a secret from you? Is there a valid reason to be concerned and perhaps seek help?

Before hitting the panic button, a good move would be to learn more about teens. Why are they moody and when could it be a sign of something bigger?

Tips for Parenting Your Moody Teenager (part 1)

A few big but common possible reasons your teen is moody.

Hormones

It would be too easy to chalk everything up to hormones but you sure can’t ignore this factor. The amount of changes your teen is going through is enormous. So, get informed about that process and share what you learn with your child.

A Need For Independence

Our teenage years are pivotal. We’re becoming adults but can typically still lean on the family to do some of the heavy lifting. Your teen craves freedom and that is a confusing feeling.

Lack of Self-Care

Teens will rebel against anything. Sometimes, that includes taking care of themselves. Who needs sleep, exercise, or healthy food, right? As a result, your teen’s moods can be at the mercy of erratic choices — plus genuine overload. Most teens are sleep-deprived, choose snacks over nutrients, and (except for athletes) neglect the mood-enhancing properties of physical fitness.

photo of a teenage boy sitting on a couch who looks angryTips for Parenting Your Moody Teenager (part 2)

Some steps you can take:

Give Them Space

This is a balancing act, for sure. Your child’s mood may improve if they’re allowed space and privacy. The trick is to do so in a way that feels reasonable and safe.

Don’t Take it Personally

It may feel like it’s about you but it’s probably not. Yet again, you have a balancing act on your hands. You must be able to shrug off some of their moodiness but not enable rude, inappropriate behavior as the norm. That said, teenage mood swings are almost always far more about them than you (or anyone else).

Keep the Peace

As the adult in the room, the onus is on you to be a role model of calmness. When your teen displays petulance or frustration, choose our battles. Not everything has to be addressed urgently. It can be far more productive to return to the issue when caller heads can prevail.

Connect With Other Parents of Teens

What a comfort it is to talk with someone who “gets” it. You can help each other and take solace in knowing you’re not alone. Also, from conversations with those parents, you can better gauge your teen’s behavior and get alerted to possible red flags.

Watch For Red Flags

Teenage moodiness, in some cases, can be a sign that your child is struggling. They don’t understand what’s going on and don’t know how to talk about it. Hence, they act out in ways that might not make sense to them. Chronic moodiness can be a sign of some serious mental distress — from depression to anxiety and beyond. You don’t have to leap to this conclusion but if your child goes from moody to anti-social, you should ask for help.

In a therapy setting, a teenager can feel safe talking about their emotions. They have privacy and are being taken seriously by an adult. This adds up to a powerful combination that can better pinpoint the root causes of mood swings. If your teen has you concerned, I invite you to reach out and talk.

photo of a teenage boy wearing a backpack walking down a street

5 Signs of Depression In Teens

When people look back to their teen years with nostalgic wanting, they often conveniently forget all the struggles. Things are happening that you can feel but not fully understand. Hormonal changes collide with social expectations and academic challenges. In this digital age, the pressures never seem to let up. It should come as no surprise that depression is increasingly common among adolescents and teens.

At least one in five will be diagnosed with clinical depression. That number could be much higher because symptoms are not identified. It’s tricky to discern teenage angst from signs of depression. Parents must learn how to do so in order to get their children the help they need and deserve.

5 Signs of Depression In Teens

1. Hopelessness

Teenagers have mood swings. There is a feeling of normalcy related to this fact. But if you notice them, for example, losing interest in activities they once enjoyed, you should take a closer look. Talk to your teen. Ask them what makes them feel excited or hopeful. Inquire about their future goals. If they have trouble thinking of anything positive, this could be the beginning of a depressive episode.

photo of a teenage boy wearing a backpack walking down a street2. Major Changes in Daily Behavior

Depression has a way of uprooting your way of living. While teens are unpredictable, we’re talking about counterproductive changes. They may slide into some strange sleeping habits or start to neglect important duties like hygiene and homework. Are they displaying changes in appetite and weight? As touched on in #1 above, rejecting what once made them happy is a red flag.

3. Academic Struggles

This is relative, of course. Keep up with your child’s grades to be able to identify if changes are happening. Depression can negatively impact cognitive skills and this may be most obvious via academic struggles. Concurrently, as their grades drop, their behavior at school may shift. It could be acting out. It could be truancy. Whatever form it takes, this must be addressed.

4. Withdrawal

Sure, teens can change friend groups but teens with depression may step away from all of them. They may feel shame about this and thus get defensive or even fabricate stories about social interactions. In addition, they may not participate in school, engage in extracurricular activities, or play sports. None of this is considered typical.

5. Low Self-Esteem

If your teen is concerned about fitting in, this is not unusual. When they add to that by dwelling on perceived failures and flaws, it could be related to a poor self-image. Low self-esteem is a hallmark of depression at any age. Left unchecked, it has the potential to escalate into self-harm.

What’s a Parent to Do?

It begins with educating yourself about depression and how it manifests in teenagers. Without prying or being overbearing, you’ll also want to keep tabs on your child’s daily life. It can be useful to talk with teachers and school administrators. In addition:

  • Make it clear to your child that you are present and available to offer non-judgmental support
  • If they’ll accept it, help them create and stick to a daily schedule — including a sleep routine
  • Exercise is a great mood boost so suggest you workout or play sports together
  • Actively supply them with healthy meals to enhance their physical and mental well-being
  • Urge them to keep a journal in which they can express and name their emotions

Perhaps most important of all, you can work with your teen to find a compatible therapist. That private time with an adult who is not a parent or teacher can be so valuable to a young person. It could be the safe space they need to understand what they’re going through.

Reach out to learn more about teen counseling and depression treatment.

photo of a teenage boy sitting at a desk working on a laptop

How To Help Your Teen When They Have Anxiety

Conversations about anxiety tend to focus on adults. However, did you know that roughly one-third of Americans between the ages of 13 and 18 have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder? It can get chalked up to teenage angst or mood swings but if left unchecked, anxiety can truly disrupt a young person’s life.

This makes it vital for parents to become familiar with anxiety disorders and how they manifest in teenagers. Your awareness and support can reduce symptoms and get them back on track quickly. With that in mind, let’s learn more about teenage anxiety and how to recognize it.

Anxiety and Teens

It’s a troubling paradox. Everyone knows how much pressure a teen can feel. At the same time, this stress gets downplayed as a “part of life.” But it’s not easy to navigate:

  • Peer pressure
  • Academic responsibilities
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Hormonal changes
  • Making friends
  • Budding relationships
  • Feeling independent
  • Planning for college and your future

Of course, they feel anxious but they feel self-conscious talking about it. That’s when parents can make a big difference by knowing what to look for.

Signs of Anxiety in Teenagers

Emotional/Behavioral

  • Inability to concentrate both at home and school
  • Noticeably tense and unable to relax
  • Negative self-talk
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Losing interest in activities they usually enjoy
  • Spending less time with friends and flakily members
  • Avoiding situations and people that make them stressed
  • Engaging in risky behaviors

Physical

  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Sleep disruptions and nightmares 
  • Sudden changes in appetite (with either weight loss or gain)
  • Fatigue, low energy

photo of a teenage boy sitting at a desk working on a laptopHow To Help Your Teen When They Have Anxiety

Acknowledge Their Feelings and Encourage Them to Talk About It

Don’t dismiss their anxiety with lines like, “Wait until you’re in the real world and have reason to be stressed.” Also, resist the urge to suggest that they “stop worrying.” This teaches them that worry is something negative and invalid. Instead, let them know you appreciate their struggles and that you’re available to talk to and support them without judgment.

Naming and talking about their emotions can go a long way in describing the anxiety they feel. Make yourself available to listen. Offer advice and solutions when this input is welcomed.

Help Them Develop Coping Skills

This can include:

  • Practicing self-compassion
  • Challenging their anxious inner critic
  • Engaging in positive self-talk
  • Getting comfortable with asking for help

In addition, teach them some basic relaxation techniques, e.g.

  • Deep breathing
  • Visualizing places or people who make them feel relaxed
  • Grounding skills like naming all the things in their vicinity they can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste

Encourage Them to Develop a Daily Self-Care Regimen

Work with them to guide them toward healthy lifestyle choices like:

  • Prioritizing regular sleep patterns
  • Healthy eating habits that include the avoidance of substances like caffeine that can cause anxiety
  • Daily physical activity and exercise

It can go a long way if you serve as a good example by modeling such behavior.

Make Your Home a Safe Space

  • Spend time with your child but also learn how to read the signs when they need some solitude and/or independence.
  • Invite them to do things together like cooking, exercising, watching a movie, etc.
  • Create family routines that inspire feelings of security and relaxation
  • Be mindful of who is invited to your home and how this makes your teen feel

Connect With an Experienced Therapist

Everyone — at any age — has moments of nervousness or worry. An anxiety disorder, however, is a diagnosable mental health condition. What this means is that you’ll need a qualified guide. If your teen is showing signs of anxiety, we invite you to reach out today to learn more about teen counseling.

Sam Swafford, MS, LPCC sam.swafford@affinitypsych.com

Sam is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who works with adolescents, young adults, adults, and those who are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. They specialize in trauma work and those with dissociative abilities. Sam aims to create a safe and comfortable space for all.

Jonathan Guzman, MA, LPCC jonathan.guzman@affinitypsych.com

Jonathan Guzman is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who specializes in individual, family, and couples counseling. He works with adolescents and adults to explore meaning, cultivate purpose, and envision ways through all of life’s challenges. He believes in person-centered care with a focus on healing and becoming our best selves.

Christine Dudero, MA, LMFTchristine.dudero@affinitypsych.com

Christine Dudero is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist experienced in working with individuals, couples & families across the lifespan. Christine takes a collaborative approach towards empowering you to achieve your therapy goals.

teenage girl smiling at camera holding a binder and listening to headphones

How To Help Your Teen Deal With Depression

Parenting a teenager is fraught with myriad challenges and confusion. One word commonly used for teens is moody. But how does a parent know when it’s a “normal” mood swing or something far more severe? After all, at least 20 percent of all teenagers will suffer from depression, but many more cases go unrecognized and undiagnosed. 

As a parent, you can play an essential role in supporting your teen during this time period. A powerful step in that direction is to learn more about depression and its symptoms. From there, you are better situated to help your child recover and thrive again.

Common Signs of Depression in Teenagers

One of the first things to do is recognize that sudden changes could be a red flag. Sure, teens can be fickle, but we’re talking about drastic swings when it comes to:

  • Sleeping or eating patterns
  • Losing interest in activities that once excited them
  • Academic and/or behavior issues at school
  • Angry and aggressive outbursts
  • Engaging in high-risk behaviors like unsafe sex, reckless driving, etc.

Other possible signs include:

  • Persistent negativity:  The key is “persistent.” These aren’t casual mood swings. Your teen may be prone to crying, express a sense of hopelessness about their life or the world in general, and display low self-esteem.
  • Phone addiction: They disappear into the online world to escape their emotions.
  • Substance abuse: It’s a form of self-medication.
  • Running away: They are metaphorically hoping to leave their pain behind.

teenage girl smiling at camera holding a binder and listening to headphonesHow To Help Your Teen Deal With Depression

Communicate

Start conversations in non-confrontation ways. For example, you could say: “I’ve noticed that you’re sleeping less (or eating less or not spending time with your friends).” Make it clear that you care and that you will listen without judging. Give them your full attention, and stay aware of your body language as you listen.

Make This a Family Solution

If, for example, you see your teen not being as physically active, invite them to take a walk or hike as a family. Do things outdoors in the sun. Set up device-free times to be a family together. Create a family bedtime to encourage healthy sleep patterns.

Give Them Space When They Really Need It

Everyone—teenagers included—needs solo time and downtime. So, work hard to strike a healthy balance of both encouraging them and cutting them some slack. Also, depression can make it hard for them to focus and concentrate. Offer homework help and maybe give them a break for the occasional lapse.

Don’t Take It Personally

Teenagers will snap at their parents. Depressed teenagers will snap too, but they may behave in a way that can hurt their parents. They don’t mean it. They are struggling with a diagnosable mental health disorder. As hard as it sounds, do not take it personally. It’s not a personal attack, and it’s not a statement on your parenting skills.

Now, to be clear, you also don’t want to give them carte blanche to treat you or anyone in an abusive way. Even so, take a few breaths before sliding right into punishment mode. See if there’s a way to work this out together and turn it into a bonding moment.

Help Them Get the Support They Need

At the end of the day, no matter how much you want to help, you will need outside support. Depression is a disease, and it requires professional intervention. You can use this reality as an opportunity to guide them through the options. Do the research with them and, if warranted, go with them to appointments. Remember, if you think your teen might be depressed, it is imperative that you get more information from a trained therapist. Reach out to us for help with depression treatment soon.

teenager girl standing in hallway with bookbag on

How to Help Your Teen Cope With the Trauma of School Shootings

Trauma can strike in many ways. For example, you can be traumatized by witnessing a horrific event. This really is particularly relevant when considering the impact of school shootings on teenagers across the land. Needless to say, it can leave a deep scar if such violent strikes at your school. However, the hyper-awareness and blanket coverage of such events are enough to negatively impact your teen’s mental health.

It differs from child to child but the reality remains. School shootings can claim untold and unseen victims from the sheer terror they inspire. How then can you help your teen cope with the potential trauma?

How the Trauma of School Shootings Can Impact Your Teen’s Mental Health 

  • A desire to skip school
  • Worrying about themselves, close friends, and favorite teachers at school
  • Sleep disturbances, including nightmares
  • Substance abuse
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Academic problems
  • Anxiety
  • Unexplained physical aches and pains
  • Digestive problems
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts

If a teen is directly involved in such an attack, they may also experience survivor’s guilt. They feel bad that they survived while others didn’t. They may also wonder what else they could’ve done to help. On top of the symptoms above, someone with survivor’s guilt may display:

  • Confusion
  • Anger and irritability
  • Feelings helplessness
  • Loss of motivation
  • A desire to withdraw and choose social isolation

Whether your teen was present for a school shooting or has been following the news of other attacks, these events can throw a monkey wrench into their life. Stability, predictability, and normal expectations can be shattered.

teenager girl standing in hallway with bookbag onHow to Help Your Teen Cope With the Trauma of School Shootings

You can start with the basics, e.g.

  • Keep your home safe and welcoming
  • Make yourself available to talk and listen
  • Be on the alert for signs of mental distress
  • Check-in with your teen often while still giving them the space they need
  • Be fully present with them during all of your time together
  • Lead by example by practicing daily self-care
  • Lead by example by taking breaks from the news and your devices

On that last note, it is vital that neither you nor your child binge on new reports. During your tech breaks, use that time to do something productive together. Taking a walk or playing a sport is ideal. Get your bodies moving and distract your minds.

The Dangers of the 24/7 News Cycle

The news shows or websites you choose all have something in common. They don’t want you to click away to another source (or turn them off for a tech break). Therefore, as a business decision, they will continue to squeeze content out of a school shooting event. Just when you think your teen is beginning to process and resolve their emotions, some new and sensational angle is introduced. You can be of great help with this by never downplaying the hour of what happened while keeping the event in context with reality. Help your teen put the news and safety in general into proper perspective.

You Don’t Have to Have All the Answers

No parent should be expected to magically know just what to say or do when a rare tragedy hits. You call upon your love and your years of experience to do what feels best for your child. In the meantime, if you sense they need more, therapy is an excellent option. Sometimes, what a teen really needs is a safe space to talk openly without feeling judged. Their counseling sessions provide them with this opportunity on a regular basis.

So, if the headlines have your teen — or you — in a state of free-floating anxiety, reach out to us for teen counseling or trauma therapy.