Puberty and anxiety

It is a very rare parent who has never experienced a change for the worse in a child’s behaviour, and a great many parents find that such changes occur about the time their children start ‘growing up’ – or as the professionals call it, entering puberty.  There is no specific age associated with the process, and certainly no hard and fast rules to deal with it, but basically it involves the body’s production of the hormones that trigger sexual development.

This stage in life is almost always confusing and frightening to some degree; many children seem to cope with it quite well, but many others fall prey to anxieties that can be come acute and debilitating if no help is offered.  It has been estimated that around one in ten children suffer from anxiety disorders that may or may not have a basis in reality.

Often the symptoms of anxiety and fear in a pre-teen or teenager manifest themselves as increasing isolation from parents and peers, and/or behaviour such as refusing to do as they’re told, bursts of anger when they don’t get what they want and poor performance at school.  Physical symptoms also often appear in the form of headaches, stomach and chest pains, sleeplessness and ‘forgetfulness’ or loss of concentration.

Unfortunately, symptoms of anxiety are overlooked or misdiagnosed in too many cases.  Parents, teachers and even physicians put the ‘bad’ behaviour down to a child’s normal growing pains, or worse, they see it as a punishable offense that can be cured with sharp words and restricted privileges.  Most psychologists say that this is the worst reaction a parent can have, since it will not solve the problem, only exacerbate it.

The best and most effective response for parents is to keep the lines of communication open.  More often than not, getting children to talk about what’s bothering them will go a long way towards finding a solution to the problem.  If parents take the time and show a genuine interest in their child’s life, what he or she enjoys and fears, the parents are showing support and encouragement rather than disapproval.  Without this reinforcement, anxiety-ridden children can grow into anxiety-ridden adults, with all the associated problems.

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