Jimmy sat at the dinner table and listened to his son, an athletic type who wasn’t prone to tears.
The problem wasn’t necessarily school, his son said. It wasn’t about having friends, because he had plenty. It was something mixed together — worry about the future, fear of the unknown, being generally unnerved about the state of … everything.
Jimmy is a deacon in a Southern Baptist church. He has several children ranging in age from pre-teen to college. They all deal with anxiety in some form, and each handles it differently.
A recent Pew Research study said mental health topped parents’ concerns over their children, with 40 percent saying they were “extremely” or “very” worried over struggles with anxiety or depression. That was just ahead of being bullied (35 percent) and more than physical threats such as being kidnapped (28 percent), beaten up (25 percent), or having problems with drugs and alcohol (23 percent).
Mark Crawford, a licensed clinical psychologist, counsels individuals, couples and families. Numerous societal factors contribute to the busy schedules of every mental health professional he knows.
“[There is] general turmoil we see constantly in the news — political polarization, wars, economic difficulties,” he said.
Others include pervasive social media use and the COVID pandemic, which brought about “significant increases in a number of problems related to isolation and lockdowns.”
An “undeniable” reduction in church involvement, he said, has led to “an unmooring from values that anchor us in times of turmoil.”
The pandemic also amplified problems at home.
“We know that [rates of] domestic violence and substance abuse increased dramatically,” he said. “We also know that social isolation and not attending school has had significant negative effects on the mental health of youth.”
In leading Bartow Baptist Association in northwest Georgia, David Franklin often asks pastors how their families are doing.
“Anxiety among their children comes up, particularly when the pastor and family are in the process of moving somewhere else,” he said.
Franklin added that pastors recognize it is a more difficult time to be a teenager. And the speed of cultural change, particularly in opposition to biblical standards, can be dizzying not only as a church leader, but as a parent.
Ways to Help
In a post for Lifeway Women, child and teen counselor Amy Jacobs gave four tips for parenting an anxious child:
• Avoid the urge to accommodate. Don’t remove the hurdles that lead to growth. Remind them that they are safe and will make it through.
• Take one baby step at a time. Become comfortable with discomfort. Face your anxiety.
• Keep a track record. Take note of incremental steps toward facing their anxiety.
• Anxious kids underestimate their ability to handle adversity. Tell your son or daughter they have the strength to do hard things. Remind them how they have faced challenges before, and have overcome.
“When anxiety keeps us from doing what we want or should do — playing the sport she loves, or attending events he has enjoyed in the past — it’s a clear sign that your child needs extra support in overcoming anxiety,” she said.
— Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.