When I was a senior in high school, there was only one university I wanted to attend – and I made that clear to everyone who would listen. When I finally ripped open my decision letter (thankfully with the word “Congratulations!” in large lettering across the top), my dad instantly burst into happy tears of relief. That was the moment that I realized how much stress he had been experiencing, too; he wanted me to be accepted, of course, but he also knew he’d be dealing with my heartbreak if I wasn’t. I have an even clearer understanding of his parental anxiety now that I’m a mother myself.
And honestly, teens these days have even more on their plate, which means more stress for parents, too (yay!). From schoolwork, testing, and college admissions to things like drinking, drugs, COVID, and all the hazards of being a high schooler, it can be hard to breathe easy.
Understand what you can and can’t control.
You can model healthy behavior. You can encourage your teen to work hard, and you can offer help and advice. You can buy them test prep books and get them an Enrichery coach! You can talk to them about drinking, drugs, sex, and all of those other hard topics. However, you have to accept – for both of your sakes – that there is a limit to what you can do. Ruminating, worrying, pacing, yelling, lecturing, controlling… those likely won’t get you very far. Put your time and effort into what you can’t control and affect and do your very best to let everything go. You’ll feel relief, I promise.
Remember that overprotection can be counterproductive.
When I got to college, I knew how to study, how to handle someone being rude, how to talk to a professor about an academic concern, how to recover from a bad grade, and basically how to handle all things academia because my parents let me figure it all out in high school. If they had handled all of this for me, I would’ve been – to put it plainly – totally screwed when I got to college.
You may be overprotective out of love but shielding your child from everything only inhibits their real-world learning. Mistakes can be the most powerful lessons of all. This is where we gain wisdom. I know how tempting it can be to fight your child’s battles – or help them avoid battles altogether – but you aren’t doing them any favors in the long run.
Separate fact and fiction.
When I was in high school, I’d read articles about the newest drug or dangerous trend “sweeping through high schools everywhere!” and just get downright confused. There is a lot of fear and misinformation out there, and it can cause parents a lot of grief and worry over nothing.
Additionally, separate fact from fiction in your own head. Are you worrying about something that is actually realistic? Are those worst case scenarios playing out in your head actually likely to come true? When you notice that runaway anxiety picking up, the best thing you can do is to decide what is reality.
Keep the lines of communication open.
Typically, it’s the unknown that scares us the most. While your teen might not be the most talkative, it’s still crucial that the lines of communication are always open. Make sure they know you’re available if they need something. Ideally, they’ll fill you in on all things social and academic, and you can see firsthand that there is nothing to stress over. However, even knowing that they’ll come to you if anything was ever seriously wrong can be reassuring.
Remember that your anxiety can be contagious.
This isn’t meant to make you feel guilty, because I know that adding mom/dad guilt on top of parental anxiety can be overwhelming. This is simply a reminder that taking care of your own mental health is imperative because your anxieties and worries can rub off on your teen, who likely already has their own. When you worry, catastrophize, or even just vent in front of them, it’s not harmless – your child may be internalizing all of it. Keep this in mind during your interactions, and remember that getting control of your anxiety can, in turn, help the entire family.
Stay in the present and don’t forget that you are your own person.
Take everything one step at a time, whether it’s the college admissions process or raising a teen in general. When you get overwhelmed with all of the noise, just focus on what you can do today to help, support, encourage, and love your child.
You’ve put your child first from the moment they were born, but don’t lose sight of the fact that you and your child are separate people. You cannot control every aspect and outcome of their life. Do the best you can as a parent but remember that you are your own person! And guess what? You worked hard, overcame challenges, learned through trial and error, and lived to tell the tale… and so will your child.
Get help if you need it.
Has your anxiety ramped up to the point where it’s interfering with your day-to-day life? While it’s impossible to avoid any parental anxiety, it shouldn’t be so overpowering that it’s affecting your quality of life. Parenting is hard, and it’s gotten even harder over the past couple of years. Talk to your doctor, find a counselor, seek support – do whatever you need to do to be mentally healthy. The best gift you can give your child is a healthy parent.