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Helping your teen deal with life fears

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

You wish it was spiders now

Was your son afraid of spiders when he was little? Did he (mostly) outgrow it? Did you ever laugh with a girlfriend, expressing relief at not having to manage that little fear, those crazy kid emotions? Well, karmic justice being what it is, those fears aren’t over. In fact, your child may have some bigger ones brewing. Your teen, in particular, may be dealing with weighty fears about life in general — and they are some of the same fears you may have in life: fear of not achieving happiness, meeting expectations, reaching “success” or just figuring the whole adult life thing out. You wish it was just a fear of spiders!

mom talking to teen girl

No age or stage is immune to fear. The general roller coaster of the teen years have them, too, and acting out, engaging in the push and pull and other classic teen behaviors can all be representations of their fear. While they may not admit it to you — or even to themselves — adolescent life can be scary. They still need your help navigating this roller coaster called the teen years. How can you help your child during this time?

Understand the ambivalence and fear

Try to remember back to your own adolescence — it was a scary time. Neither a child nor an adult, expectations seemed to be increasing exponentially. The "real" world was an unknown hurtling toward you at a very uncomfortable pace while the safety of young childhood was becoming more and more distant.

As excited as your child may be for that future, there is an understandable ambivalence — and likely some fear. Your daughter wonders if she's making the right school choices and whether she'll live up to your expectations. Your son is afraid he's not going to be able to pull off that which he has always dreamed of, whether it be athletic or academic.

Create a safe place

Work to strengthen your family bond (and your bond with your sweetie) so that home is a warm, loving and safe place. This sense of safety is a feeling as much as it is physical structure or things. Mostly it's your child knowing that home is a place where he or she can let down her guard and feel accepted.

Keep open communication

Keeping lines of communication open with kids often is easier said than done. Sometimes it's a lot of reiterating that you are available, sometimes it's talking to your child to communicate important points, sometimes it's the silence of being in each other's presence — and sometimes it's all listening (and not reacting too quickly) when your child does open up. Since you never know when or where that could be, stay alert to the words and signals that communication is happening now.

Set realistic expectations

Even while establishing basic responsibilities and rules for your child, keep expectations realistic. Children mature at different rates, and the kind of responsibility your neighbor's son has might not be the right level for your son, whether it's more or less responsibility. That said, within those expectations, give your child room to fail in safety. Not all responsibilities or expectations are fully realized the first time — but you and your child may never know unless it's tried.

Reassure, reassure, reassure

You are your child's greatest resource, and he or she needs to be reminded of that. Your teen — who is very much still your child — needs to be reassured that you'll still be back up for them (at least in some way) a little while longer, and that you will always love them.

Amid these unsettled teenage years, your child may be moody and lash out and do all the normal kid things. And he may be a bit fearful of the future, like so many other teens before him. With some understanding and reassurance, you'll both make it through, and those fears may turn into wings.

More on teens and self-confidence

A crisis of confidence: Teenage girls and the risky years
5 Parenting mistakes that can screw up your teen
Confidence: Help your child gain confidence

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