Confronting the New Anxiety


How Therapists can Help Today's Fearful Kids

November/December 2003


Listen to enough kids and it often sounds like they're coming apart at the seams. Teens and preteens today pulsate with anxiety in a pressure-cooker youth culture and an explosive world, ever at the edge. Not that you'd know it when you first meet them. For the most part, they don't act particularly scared. They don't come in with raging guilt, repression, or conflict--the traditional, "gold-standard" symptoms of neurotic anxiety. They rarely present with PTSD as their main complaint and, in fact, seem quite removed from the world-worries that the media, parents, and trauma experts seem so focused on.

Indeed, today's children and adolescents often present such a convincing front of sophistication, such a steady stream of activity, such articulate, pop-culture babble that they virtually shimmer with techno-energy. No, this 21st-century teen anxiety is different. It's at once chaotic, chronic, and cool--more invisible than the air we breathe. 

Spend time with teens and preteens and you gradually become aware that beneath the seemingly jaded precocity is a fretful undercurrent of worry and fear, unimaginable for 11- or 13- or 15-year-olds just a decade ago. Get into the nitty-gritty of their daily lives and you'll find their thoughts racing, like overheated jet engines, from one source of stress to another--the next make-or-break standardized test, the next totally unsupervised after-school bash, the next late-night, midweek concert they have to be at.…

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