You’ve noticed some changes in your child or teen and you’re wondering if something more is going on than them just having a rough day. Perhaps their teacher or coach has mentioned something to you about changes in their behavior. Maybe they are having trouble focusing in school, started acting out, crying in school, complaining of a stomach ache or having trouble making friends. Figuring out what is going on with your child can feel overwhelming as a parent. Where do you even start to try to figure out what is happening?
You’ve noticed some changes in your teenage son or daughter’s behavior. They’ve started snapping at you when you ask them a simple question or they respond with a single-word answer. They’ve started spending a great deal of time alone in their room with the door closed and are always on their phone talking, texting, Snapchatting, and messaging with their friends. And they just don’t seem as happy as they used to. You’ve asked them if everything is okay but they always respond with an exasperated sigh that they’re “fine” but you don’t believe them.
After my 2012 blog about parenting a child with mental illness, “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” went viral, I received numerous suggestions about ways to help my child. A surprising number of these comments focused on my son’s diet. “I guess I shouldn’t have let you eat Red Vines or drink root beer,” I joked to Eric, who has always had a fondness for those sugar-laden treats.
“Anxiety is one of those diagnoses that is a great masquerader,” explains Dr. Laura Prager, director of the Child Psychiatry Emergency Service at Massachusetts General Hospital in an article featured for The Child Mind Institute. “It can look like a lot of things.” Indeed, anxious children react to their environment in a variety of ways, some of which parents may find surprising. Often, a child diagnosed with an anxiety disorder will behave like an angry, sad or disruptive child. In fact, the Child Mind Institute shares that “anxiety manifests differently in part because it is based on a physiological response to a threat in the environment, a response that maximizes the body’s ability to either face danger or escape danger.”
The statistics are staggering. According to a national study, between 6 and 35% of the young people in this country have experienced some form cyber bullying. It’s being recognized as a new form of violence, and it has potentially devastating consequences.
Mental illness rarely first occurs as a full-blown disorder, short of a traumatic experience. There are usually warning signs and red flags that can alert parents that their child’s mental well-being may be at risk.