Evolving beauty and painful anxiety are two of the most basic characteristics of a teen girl’s heart. These years can feel like the blossoming of a flower, but also like the opening of a wound. I have the distinct memory of suddenly realizing I was a person at the age of 12. Developmentally, it’s an indispensable part of becoming the men and women God created us to be. But like everything else, the process isn’t perfect. In particular today, I want to address the anxiety that many teen and preteen girls feel and suggest a few ways you can help.
Powered by adolescent hormones, teen emotions are new and intense. Girls at this stage also begin to be aware of the expectations of others and of their own conflicting thoughts. God intends girls to sort through possibilities, searching for their own passions, personality traits, and gifts. But the world is trying to sell them many standards of perfection, and no one can meet them all. It’s hard to hold the excitement of exploration in one hand and the fear of failure in the other.
Friends and teen culture become vitally important during these years, too. Girls who have felt secure in a family environment are now drawn into wider spheres, including online friendships and social media. Teens and preteens may try out different modes of dress, switch friend groups or test out new activities, searching both for themselves and for connections to the world around them. Possible fulfillment and possible rejection lie around every corner.
How can you help?
Those who love a teenage girl may be tempted to ask, “How can I protect her?” But I’d like to suggest she is doing what God created her to do. A better question might be, “How can I help her?” Can I help her explore life in healthy ways? Could I help her become everything God dreamed for her? How can I help her with these new emotions – and especially how can I help with the anxiety we are both feeling right now?
Here are several important suggestions for helping a teen girl (and maybe yourself) through the anxiety of these years.
1. Talk about it.
Anxiety is normal, but when all your feelings are new, they can seem overwhelming. As a mentor, one way to help is to talk about your own experience of anxiety. Describe what anxiety feels like to you, tell stories about your growing-up years. And ask good questions. When and how does your teenager experience her fears (e.g., before a test, in social situations, online, or in bed at night)? Just talking about it, and knowing she can talk about it, will help.
2. Help her take some control.
When your thoughts first start running wild, it’s easy to believe you have no control over them. But it’s not true. Everyone can get better at controlling their anxiety with practice. If you have a technique you use, share it. But there are plenty of good suggestions around – prayer, meditation, and healthy distractions are three you could try with your teen. I will include a few resources to help you below this post.
3. Physical activity
Most of us could profit from a little more physical activity. But those struggling with anxiety get a special benefit. Research has shown that exercise actually changes your brain chemistry in ways that decrease anxiety, both long- and short-term. So, adopting some form of exercise, and then doing it regularly, can make a big difference. Perhaps the teen in your life would like to learn to play tennis or golf or basketball. Perhaps they could join the cross-country team, a dance team, or just join you on a bike ride. Helping the anxious teen you love find some exercise they will practice is one of the best things you can do for them.
4. Prayer journaling.
God tells all of us to cast our cares on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Giving God our worries is a lifelong skill and spiritual practice. And it can be especially meaningful to teen girls who are struggling with anxiety. One way to do that is to keep a prayer journal, hearing from God’s word and responding to it. The things we read and write about ‘stick’ better than those we merely read. If you are looking for a journaling guide for your preteen or teen girl, you can look at mine here. Teens can make their own, too, using just a spiral notebook and some fun markers. It’s even possible to journal on your phone or tablet, but I’ve found the physical act of writing out my prayers both slows me down and connects me to my own words.
As you and your teenager work through the challenges of adolescence, I hope you also find the precious gold being forged through her experiences. The beauty of her heart will last into eternity. Her anxiety will not. May you find meaningful ways of helping her navigate this beautiful, anxious time of life, and may both of you be richly blessed.
Finding healthy distractions. https://ibpf.org/articles/18-ways-to-distract-from-anxiety/