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4 min read

My teenager has separation anxiety. What can I do?

Teenagers may have a reputation for distance and disconnection. The "brooding teenager" is as ubiquitous in comedy movies as the "immature uncle" character and the "enemies-to-lovers" trope.

But despite their depictions in the media, teenagers are still developing psychologically and learning about the world around them. This means, necessarily, that they still need their parents.

This is true for all teenagers, although some show it more than others. It's crucial, when transitioning from child to adult, to maintain connection with one's parents. Parents are there to guide their children into adulthood in the best way possible.

But while this connection is imperative when raising a teenager, so too is allowing for independence. Part of learning to be an adult is learning to exist and be comfortable away from your parents.

This can present problems: Teenagers can, due to a number of contributing factors, develop anxiety around the thought of losing a parent, or even having to spend time away from them.

Separation anxiety is characterized by an intense fear of being separated from a particular person, place, thing, or animal. When a teenager has separation anxiety, it can hinder their development and reduce their ability to maintain the independence needed to become a well-rounded adult.

Let's explore how parents can work with teenagers who have separation anxiety, as well as options for professional treatment.

Teen Separation Anxiety Resources on This Page:

Types of Separation Anxiety in Teens

What factors contribute to separation anxiety in teens?

What can parents do to help their teenager with separation anxiety?

Therapy for Teen Separation Anxiety: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Types of Separation Anxiety in Teens

Separation anxiety can manifest in lots of different ways. First, there is the subject of the separation anxiety itself - the person or thing from which separation causes anxiety. This is known as the “attachment figure.” Then there is the spectrum of severity, which ranges from mild anxiety to true panic upon thinking about separation.

Most commonly, teens experience separation anxiety from their parents, but they can also experience it from siblings and friends. One of the most common presenting symptoms is fear for the life and safety of a parent.

Definition Template (24)

What factors contribute to separation anxiety in teens?

There are a number of factors that can contribute to separation anxiety in teenagers, including:

  • Genetics - Teens and children can inherent a genetic predisposition to anxiety in general and, by extension, separation anxiety
  • Life stress - Whe life becomes chaotic and stressful, it can be scary for teenagers. It's natural to look for support in hard times, but it can also develop into separation anxiety.
  • Trauma - Trauma can lock the body in a state of fight-or-flight, creating a sense of danger that is quelled by clinging to a parent. This can also lead to separation anxiety.

A common and specific contributing factor to separation anxiety in teenagers is the death of a loved one. For example, if one parent in a two-parent household dies suddenly, a teenage child may begin to feel separation anxiety in regards to the other parent.

Regardless of the cause of your teenager's separation anxiety, there are a number of things parents can do to help ease symptoms on a day-to-day basis.

Note that, before administering any treatment or trying any particular coping skill, you should talk to a licensed mental health professional. Sometimes, the treatment for separation anxiety requires a delicate balance of exposure and support, which is best handled by a professional.

What can parents do to help their teenager with separation anxiety?

If your teen has separation anxiety, or if you think your teen may have separation anxiety, your first step should be to talk to a mental health professional. Only they have the training and expertise required to ensure safe and effective clinical treatment.

But part of the treatment for separation anxiety in teens involves at-home support-oriented changes. Here is a list of things that a therapist may recommend for your home.

More Support, Not Less

If one's teenage child has separation anxiety, one of the most common knee-jerk reactions by parents is to pull back and spend less time with the child. This is an understandable and even logical course of action - a child seems too connected to a parent, so they disconnect in order to correct it.

However - and somewhat counterintuitively - the science actually tells us to do the opposite. A teenager with separation anxiety often benefits from more nurturing and support, not less.

Providing more support to your teenager can help them regulate their connection with you in a more effective way. It can also help them realize that you aren't going anywhere - at least you aren't expecting to - for a long time, which can ease symptoms and distress. This “breathing room” allows the parent, the child, and their therapist to make progress in a healthier, more sustainable way.

It should be noted that there are caveats here, and that, for your child's specific case, your therapist may recommend some deliberate and controlled disconnection in the form of exposure therapy. Always adhere to your therapist's advice.

Normalize and Communicate

Another common reaction to separation anxiety and, really, any mental health concern in one's child is to not talk about it. If you ignore it, it'll go away, right? Wrong.

In fact, sweeping separation anxiety under the rug can make things much, much worse. Your child is fearful that, by some event, you will become absent from their life. Ignoring this fear, in a lot of ways, confirms it.

Instead, go the other way. Open communication fully, and be ready to ask about and talk to your child about their current feelings and symptoms. Make sure they know that their feelings are valid, and that whatever happens, you'll support them.

Therapy

The best thing you can do for your teenager with separation anxiety is enroll them in therapy.

Therapists are highly trained and experienced, giving them the know-how needed to treat your child's separation anxiety in the safest and most effective way possible.

Therapists can administer treatments that, when given by untrained individuals, can cause more harm than good. One example of this is exposure therapy - a form of therapy that, for separation anxiety, may demand that a child try to spend some controlled time away from their attachment figure.

Your child's therapist may give some recommendations for exposure therapy at home; it is of the utmost importance that you follow their instructions to the letter. Do not attempt exposure therapy on your own without first speaking with a therapist, as it can cause far more harm than good if done improperly.

Therapy for Teen Separation Anxiety in Brooklyn: Williamsburg Therapy Group

If you suspect that your teenager has separation anxiety, our team of doctoral-level child therapists would be honored to help.

Composed exclusively of clinical and post-doctoral psychologists, Williamsburg Therapy Group is home to Brooklyn's premier child psychology and therapy department.

Give us a call, and our patient coordinator will do the work of finding the right therapist for your child. Feeling better may be closer than you think.

Book a Therapy Session in Brooklyn Today

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