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When I was a teenager, my parents always taught me two things: to try my best and love with a Christ-filled heart. As much as they instilled those beliefs into me, I grew to develop much anxiety and fear. Partially due to external factors and family stress and partly due to my doings, anxiety was something I wish I would have dealt with better as a teen.
Why are we so anxious?
Although my parents raised me to do my best and know that was good enough, I was fourteen when I looked in the mirror and felt anything but desirable. As a coping mechanism for control, I developed an eating disorder and the need to be perfect in a world that screamed flawlessness.
Of course, I knew deep down that I could not ever achieve that perfection. Jesus Christ is the only perfect person who will ever attain that status. However, as the “perfect” Christian of my messy family, I feared what would happen if suddenly I didn’t measure up.
Perhaps I took Matthew 5:48 a bit out of context: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, ESV).
Taking it upon myself, perfectionism and a fear of expression/confession were two of the top reasons I believe teens suffer from anxiety.
While it does not affect everyone, perfectionism is defined as a refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. It is characterized by a person’s concern with striving for flawlessness and is typically accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations. Once it becomes your philosophy, it then becomes obsessive.
Obsessive perfectionism can lead to more serious mental disorders and conditions such as anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders. Experts note this development is due to “a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations” (Medical News Today, 2018).
If your child is struggling with perfectionism, one of the best things they need is the reaffirmation of love and support. Although my parents continually told me that they were proud of me, to try my best, and would support me in anything I wanted to accomplish, I had much more serious issues at hand. Therefore, if you notice your child has an extreme obsession with perfectionism, getting professional help from a counselor might also be something one should be willing to consider.
Because teenagers who struggle with and develop anxiety and perfectionism are so perfectionistic, they are also masterminds at deceiving and hiding the truth, almost from even themselves. In the thick of my struggles, I knew I had problems and was in denial. My parents tried to confront me on these things, but I feared rejection and admitting that I needed help.
If your child’s perfectionism becomes so severe that it interferes with daily life, I highly recommend Christian counseling. While reading the Bible, prayer, going to Church, and joining support groups to talk about these matters openly are helpful, a Christian counselor can offer additional support in times of need. As a twenty-five-year-old who still struggles with threads of anxiety, this is something I wish I would have had the courage to do when I was younger. Most issues that young adults encounter stem from childhood problems that were never dealt with in the first place.
2) A Fear of Expression/Confession
Hand-in-hand with perfectionism, the second leading reason for anxiety in teens stems from a fear of expression/confession.
Expression is the ability to express oneself in a free and open manner without fear of rejection. Confession is the process of telling someone that you did something wrong, and for the Christian, that means asking God in repentance for the forgiveness of your sins.
Although my parents and I had a very close relationship growing up, I was often fearful of sharing how I felt because I knew that my siblings were already causing enough drama for the entire family. While I do not say that to throw them under the bus, I realize that my fear of perfectionism and not measuring up inherently led to an inability of honest openness with my family. Not only did I place the pressure on myself, but I believed the lies Satan fed me about myself and how they would react to my struggles.
If Satan can get you to believe that your struggles need to be hidden, fear of expression/confession will follow suit. Remember, John 10:10 reminds us that the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus has come to bring life to the fullest.
The Passion Translation writes it this way: “A thief has only one thing in mind—he wants to steal, slaughter, and destroy. But I have come to give you everything in abundance, more than you expect —life in its fullness until you overflow” (John 10:10, TPT).
The Greek word thuo is not the usual word for “kill” in modern translations like the NIV. It means “sacrifice” or “slaughter.” That is what happens to our teenagers when they feel as if they can’t share or be open about their struggles; they live a slaughtered life of shame, torment, anxiety, and fear.
Children who do feel comfortable being themselves and sharing their sufferings with caregivers are much less likely to suffer from anxiety and feel alone. Parents who share their burdens, sorrows, and sins with children in a non-condemning but accepting, loving, patient, and understanding way will bring peace and comfort to their child’s soul.
James 5:16 of the New International Version writes, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NIV).
As important as it is that kids feel safe, loved, and respected in their homes, they often long to feel accepted even amid their struggles and sins. There is an old Scottish Proverb that says confession is good for the soul and brings healing. But even better is the soul that finds rest in knowing their Heavenly Father accepts them, and their earthly guardians will do the same.