10 Reasons American Teenagers Are More Anxious Than Ever

The New York Times recently published an article called, “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?” The author, Benoit Denizet-Lewis, chronicled several teenagers’ battles with anxiety over the course of a few years.

The article questioned why we’re seeing such a rise in anxiety in today’s youth. As a psychotherapist, college lecturer, and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, I wholeheartedly agree that anxiety is a widespread issue among adolescents. It’s the most common reason people of all ages enter my therapy office.

Some young people are overachieving perfectionists with a crippling fear of failure. Others worry so much about what their peers think of them that they’re unable to function.

Some teenagers have endured rough circumstances throughout their young lives. But others have stable families, supportive parents, and plenty of resources.

I suspect the rise in anxiety reflects several societal changes and cultural shifts we’ve seen over the past couple of decades.

Here are the top 10 reasons why American teenagers are more anxious than ever:

1. Electronics offer an unhealthy escape.

Constant access to digital devices lets kids escape uncomfortable emotions like boredom, loneliness, or sadness by immersing themselves in video games when they were in the car or by chatting on social media when they were sent to their rooms.

And now we’re seeing what happen when an entire generation spent their childhoods avoiding discomfort. Their electronics replaced opportunities to develop mental strength and they didn’t gain the coping skills they need to handle everyday challenges.

2. Happiness is all the rage.

Happiness is emphasized so much in our culture right now that some parents think it’s their job to make their kids happy all the time. When a child is sad, his parents cheer him up. Or when he’s angry, they calm him down.

Kids grow up believing that if they don’t feel happy around the clock, something must be wrong. And that creates a lot of inner turmoil. They don’t understand that it’s normal and healthy to feel sad, frustrated, guilty, disappointed, and angry sometimes too.

3. Parents are giving unrealistic praise.

Saying things like, “You’re the fastest runner on the team,” or “You’re the smartest kid in your grade,” doesn’t actually build self-esteem. Instead, it puts pressure on kids to live up to their labels. That can lead to a crippling fear of failure or rejection.

4. Parents are getting caught up in the rat race.

Many parents have become like personal assistants to their teenagers. They work hard to ensure their teens can compete—they hire tutors and private sports coaches and pay for expensive SAT prep courses.

They make it their job to help their teens build transcripts that will impress an Ivy League school. And they send the message that their teen must excel at everything in order to land a coveted spot in a top college.

5. Kids aren’t learning emotional skills.

We emphasize academic preparation for life and put little effort into teaching kids the emotional skills they need to succeed. In fact, a national survey of first-year college students revealed that 60 percent of them feel emotionally unprepared for college life.

Knowing how to manage your time, combat stress, and take care of your feelings are key components to living a good life. Without healthy coping skills, it’s no wonder teens are feeling anxious over everyday hassles.

Amy Morin
Amy Morin
Amy Morin is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, college psychology instructor, and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, an international bestselling book that is being translated into more than 25 languages.

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