Do you have a worrier? You know, a child or teen who is always worrying about something—grades aren’t high enough, being late, lunch is not packed, etc? This generation of teens and kids grew up learning to take their shoes off at the airport because they might have bombs in them. They came out slathered in sunscreen to avoid skin cancer. They heard about predators on the Internet before they even started using the Internet. This has given rise to a huge ‘worrier’ segment of our young population.
More and more, when I meet with teens I am surprised at how worried they are. During my interviews with our teen intern applicants I ask them, “What is the hardest thing about your life, what do you worry about most?” Often times they cannot give me just one answer—they rattle of a litany of worries, everything from “I won’t get into a good college,” to “I fight with my parents all the time.”
What should you do if you have a worrier?
1. Never say, “It will be fine.”
This is one of the most dangerous phrases for a worrier because when you say this to them it either makes them feel bad about their feelings or that you don’t understand them. Either way it makes worriers pull away from your or feel bad about themselves.
2. Never say, “Don’t worry.”
This is the second most dangerous phrase for a worrier. Again, you saying don’t worry actually makes them worry more because they worry that you are not worrying enough and so they should worry more. (Crazy, right?)
3. Don’t be afraid of the negative feelings
Many parents are afraid to engage worriers in a discussion of their negative feelings because they think this will encourage the worry. Typically it has the opposite effect. Worriers need to learn how to process their nerves and feelings and then either discard them or address them head on. You can be a great resource for your teen if you teach them how to vent out these feelings.
4. Don’t use sarcasm
If you have been reading this blog you know that I. Hate. Sarcasm. Sarcasm is an inauthentic way of communicating and often just a way of covering up meanness and contempt. Parents will often respond in a sarcastic or teasing tone to worriers (example: “Oh don’t freak out about the Basketball game, you worry enough for the entire team.”) This does not help, and often makes worriers feel belittled.
Please do read my article on sarcasm!
If you have a little worrier, try to help them learn to process their negative and anxious feelings. As a parent you can be their best resource and support.