Jeannie Burlowski is a full time author, consultant, and conference speaker. Learn more about her services at JeannieBurlowski.com.
15-year-old Luke had been in a dark, angry mood, starting from the moment his mother wished him a cheerful “Good morning!” and set hot scrambled eggs in front of him. Luke ate in broody silence and his mother felt momentarily thankful for the quiet. If Luke could just get off to school without his typical screaming and door slamming, it would be a good day. “It’s probably just hormones,” she rationalized after her sulky son left for school. “There’s nothing I can do about that.”
Actually, Mom, it’s probably not “just hormones.” Your teen’s dark moods, depression symptoms, mood swings, blunted, flat emotional responses, and hair-trigger anger are more likely to be linked to a psychological condition called “launch anxiety.” That’s good news since there’s a lot parents can do to help teens feel better.
Psychologists Laura Kastner, Ph.D. and Jennifer Wyatt, Ph.D. have defined launch anxiety as: “The near constant feeling of indecision, doubt, uncertainty, insecurity, and fretting that accompanies the transitioning of teens in late high school, and extending through college. It’s experienced by teens, but it’s also experienced by parents, who feel tied in knots by uncertainty, doubt, insecurity, worry, and fretting about this next step in their children’s lives.”
Recent research finds a near epidemic of anxiety among 21st century high school and college age students. Is your child one of them?
5 Action Items for Combatting Launch Anxiety
1. Take this short quiz.
To gauge whether your son or daughter might be experiencing launch anxiety, take a look at the symptom list below, excerpted from www.anxietycentre.com. Do these symptoms sound familiar?
____Continual feelings of anger, impatience ____Feeling “down in the dumps”
____Depression ____Emotionally blunted, flat, or numb
____Emotional “flipping” (dramatic mood swings) ____Everything seems scary, frightening
____Frequently being on edge or ‘grouchy’ ____Feeling like crying for no apparent reason
____Not feeling like yourself, emotionally numb ____Feeling anxious, apprehensive, or fearful
____Feeling you are under constant pressure ____Feeling detached from loved ones
If these symptoms sound familiar there’s a good chance your child has some form of anxiety. Next steps…
2. Quit telling your child that if s/he “doesn’t get into a good school, s/he won’t be able to get a good job after college.” This is patently untrue, and the message is harmful.
3. Ease up on your kids’ schedules. Exhausted students who’ve been run ragged by every club, extracurricular activity, and sport can build up layers of anxiety, making them less attractive to colleges. Don’t believe it? Read this New York Times article where a Harvard admissions officer laments that student applicants “seem like dazed survivors of some bewildering lifelong boot camp.” Ease up. Please.
4. Spend at least one hour per week with your child outside the house doing an activity you both enjoy. No nagging allowed. No anxious questions about homework, grades, college applications, etc. One of the greatest antidotes to anxiety is caring, face-to-face, human connection. So schedule time to simply enjoy your child for who s/he is, not for how he or she is currently performing in school, sports, extracurricular activities, or college preparation.
5. If the anxiety becomes severe, seek professional help. Are feelings of anxiety just part of growing up? Should we just stand back and let our kids deal with it? Not if anxiety symptoms are constant and debilitating. If that’s the case, please seek help from a school psychologist or other licensed professional who specializes is working with teens.
Have you seen any anxiety symptoms in your teens or college students? What remedies have you seen work?