I was recently consulting with a family who reported something I had heard over and for many years in private practice: My child acts like an angel at School or when at a friend’s house, but it is a hot mess for me.

I tried to explain that School can provide joy, learning, and growth for many children and teenagers. But for some, it’s a battleground of anxiety, where they must constantly mask their inner turmoil to fit in.

Did you know that according to research, anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues in children and adolescents, affecting approximately 7% to 10% of children aged 3-17 years old in the United States alone? This alarming statistic sheds light on the daily silent struggles many young individuals face.

I wanted these parents to know in the front of their minds that at School, children and teens often wear a mask of normalcy, hiding their anxiety behind a facade of confidence and composure. They may force themselves to socialize, participate in activities, and maintain good grades, all while battling overwhelming feelings of fear and unease. For these young individuals, the school environment becomes a stage where they must perform, constantly fearing judgment and rejection from their peers.

But once they return home…the mask comes off. Behind closed doors, the true extent of their anxiety becomes evident. They may exhibit symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, anger, and even physical complaints like headaches or stomachaches. Simple tasks like homework or chores can become daunting challenges, further exacerbating their stress levels. Fighting with their parents and siblings is commonplace for these kids at home.

The hard truth about Anxiety Disorders among children and adolescents:

  • According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 32% of adolescents aged 13-18 will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
  • The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that anxiety disorders often coexist with other mental health conditions, such as depression or ADHD, making diagnosis and treatment more complex.
  • Studies have shown that untreated childhood anxiety can lead to significant academic, social, and emotional difficulties, impacting long-term well-being and success.

It is important for me to help parents recognize the signs of anxiety in children and teens, which is crucial for early intervention and support. Parents, teachers, and caregivers play a vital role in creating a safe and supportive environment where young individuals feel comfortable expressing their emotions without fear of judgment.

So, How Can We Help?

  1. Open Communication
  2. Validate Their Feelings
  3. Create a Relaxing Home Environment (as much as reasonable)
  4. Promote Healthy Habits

Can we take a step back when our kids come home and are a “hot mess” and see the possibility that their anxiety is in charge of their experience? By shedding light on the hidden struggles of children and teens with anxiety, we can break down the stigma surrounding mental health and create a more supportive and understanding society. It’s time to remove the mask and provide the necessary support for our young generation to thrive both in and out of School.

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month.

Dr. Marnee