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How the tween generation is experiencing anxiety

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki is a parenting writer and a mom to three wild boys who keep her on her toes (and occasionally make her question her sanity). With over 15 years of experience in the parenting industry, she has more tips and tricks than Mary Poppins on speed dial. When she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can find her sipping on coffee, hiding in the bathroom for five minutes of...
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 5 mins read
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The saying “Small children, small problems. Big children, big problems” – really starts to ring true when your child enters their tween years. Between the pushing of boundaries, emerging hormones and struggle for independence, it can be difficult to distinguish between age-appropriate difficulties and a tween struggling outside the norm.


This is why knowing what to look out for when it comes to signs of anxiety in your child is something you should have in your parenting arsenal. At its very basic level, anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. It’s a normal stress response, but it can interfere with daily activities and lead to an anxiety disorder when it becomes excessive or persistent.

What is tween anxiety?


Your tween is starting to develop a greater sense of independence and identity, but they still rely heavily on you for emotional support and guidance. This can be challenging for them as they navigate new experiences and social pressures while trying to maintain a sense of connection and security with you and the rest of the family.

In addition to the social and emotional challenges, your tween may also be experiencing significant hormonal fluctuations as they go through puberty. These hormonal changes can contribute to mood swings, irritability, and heightened emotions. This, combined with the stress of social pressures and academic expectations, can make them more vulnerable to feelings of anxiety.

Research has shown that anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems experienced by tweens. In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association, one in eight children have an anxiety disorder. Scary stuff. This can manifest in various ways, including excessive worrying, avoidance of social situations or schoolwork, physical symptoms such as stomach aches or headaches, and difficulty sleeping.

Once you are aware of these risk factors, providing a supportive and understanding environment for your tween will be much easier.


What causes anxiety in tweens?


Unfortunately, many factors can contribute to anxiety in your tween. Family and environmental factors, such as divorce, financial stress, or a recent move, can be major stressors that can trigger anxiety. Social pressure, including the desire to fit in with friends and the fear of being rejected or bullied, can also contribute. Parents and educators often overlook school stress, such as pressure to perform academically or fear of speaking in front of the class. Finally, those pesky hormonal changes can lead to mood swings and emotional instability, exacerbating anxiety.


Tween anxiety and COVID-19 – a unique position


We may be tired of hearing about it, but the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted mental health, particularly for children and adolescents. Tweens, in particular, were affected by the disruption to their daily routines, increased isolation from friends, and uncertainty about the future. Research shows that anxiety levels in children and adolescents increased during the pandemic, and tweens were no exception.

Unlike previous generations of tweens, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique set of new and unfamiliar stressors. Tweens have had to adapt to remote learning, virtual socialising, and restrictions on their activities and interactions with others. They have had to navigate the stress of the pandemic alongside the stress of typical tween experiences, such as puberty and social pressures. This has created a perfect storm for anxiety and other mental health issues. It goes without saying that recognising the increased risk for anxiety in tweens during the pandemic is the first step to providing support and resources to help them cope.

 

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What are signs of anxiety in tweens?


You can only treat it if you know it is there. Your tween may not even be able to identify the anxiety themselves. Some signs of anxiety in tweens include:

  • Your child may worry excessively about things that seem trivial to you, such as school projects or social events.
  • Anxiety can manifest as physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches, or muscle tension.
  • Your tween may avoid situations that trigger their anxiety, such as social events or public speaking.
  • They may set impossibly high standards for themselves and become anxious when they don’t meet them.
  • Anxiety can make your tween more irritable or easily upset.

If you notice any of these signs in your child, it’s essential to talk to them and offer support.

How can tweens deal with anxiety?


Tweens may not have the coping skills or experience to manage their anxiety effectively by themselves. They may resort to avoidance, distraction, or other not-so-beneficial coping strategies. Teaching your child healthy coping strategies to manage their anxiety is essential, such as:

  • Deep breathing can help them feel more relaxed and calm.
  • Regular exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve mood.
  • Encourage your child to be present in the moment and focus on the here and now.
  • Introduce them to self-care activities that promote relaxation and well-being, such as taking a bath, listening to music, or reading a book.

How you can help your tween through anxiety


You can play an essential role in helping your tween manage their anxiety. Here are some strategies:

  1. Listen to your child without judgment or criticism. Let them express their feelings and validate their experiences.
  1. Create a safe, nurturing home environment supporting your child’s emotional well-being. This means open communication, setting realistic expectations, and providing positive feedback.
  1. Help your child develop healthy coping strategies to manage their anxiety.
  1. If your tween’s anxiety interferes with their daily activities and affects their quality of life, consider seeking professional help. A mental health professional can help your child develop coping strategies and provide additional support.
  1. Managing anxiety is a process that takes time and effort. Be patient with your child and offer ongoing support and encouragement.

Above all else, know that anxiety is a common experience for tweens and learning tools to cope with it will serve them well later in life. With your support, your tween can not only cope with their anxiety but start thriving during these years of life too.

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