Worrying about the future of your teen

Worrying about your children is part and parcel of parenthood. It is natural to worry about your child – even more so about your teenager’s future.

To worry continuously and excessively about the impact of your teenager’s behaviour, motivation or examination marks is not healthy. It does not benefit you or your teen.

To give you some perspective, allow yourself to think back to what you did that made your parents worried. Chances are that, regardless of what happened back then, you – and your career – turned out fine.

What you see as today’s problems is not necessarily a preview of things to come.

A healthy dose of worry has the advantage that it spurs you on to motivate – and to instil the right values in – your teenager.

Excessive worrying about your teenager’s future could make you anxious; this anxiety could spill over to your teen.

Often it means that a single negative event or a couple of minor mishaps makes you feel – and believe – that things are much worse than what they really are.

Some psychologists call this kind of thinking / behaviour a thinking error.

The definition of a thinking error is “a faulty pattern of thinking where what you think doesn’t match reality”.

You can try to avoid thinking errors – and unnecessary worrying – by doing your best not to overgeneralise and / or to imagine that things are much worse than what they are. Rather than potentially creating more problems and issues, address the current problem and help your teenager to put a plan in place.

Never lose sight of the fact that there are enough real problems in the world. This is more than enough reason not to focus on imagined future problems.

Common worries that teenagers – and their parents on their behalf – harbour, include:

  • What is life going be like after high school?
  • What if I don’t do well enough in my Grade 11 or 12 exams?
  • What if I don’t get into (the) university / college / technical college (of my choice)?
  • How do I decide on a career if I don’t know what I want to do?
  • Will I cope with leaving home and being independent?
  • How will I support myself financially when I have left school?
  • Do I have enough life skills to live life as a young adult?
  • What if I fail at university / college?
  • What will happen to me if I don’t find a job?
  • What if I choose the wrong career?
  • How will I make friends (and have a social life) when I leave the comfort zone of my high school?

4 tips to help your teenager to worry less about the future

  1. Help your teenager to answer their own ‘what if’ questions. Encourage them to follow a logical train of thought that includes alternatives and resources for the situation they think they might be facing.
  2. Don’t offer solutions right away – listen instead. Make them realise that you understand what they are feeling.
  3. Create ‘time out’. The less time they have to worry, the less they will worry. Plan family outings and/or be supportive when your teenager seems to need a break to go somewhere with friends. Bear in mind that worry can become part of a ‘routine’.
  4. Get help when needed. Calling in the help of a professional or a trusted family member / friend could be what is needed to disrupt a pattern of anxiety or offer a new coping strategy.