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The A to Z's of Teenagers: W is for Worry

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Lizzie and I were set to meet yesterday at 10 for a mid-morning coffee and blogging session. When she didn’t show by 10:15, I texted her. When she didn’t respond by 10:30, I called her. She didn’t pick up, so I left a voice message. At 10:45, I texted again. Then called and left another voice message. By then I had worked out exactly what had happened: She’d gotten into a horrible car accident on the way over and was bleeding out from internal injuries at the local hospital. Alternately: she’d starting walking over to our coffee spot but was grabbed off the street by a (a) nut case (b) wild-eyed sex offender (c) white slaver who drugged her and tossed her into the trunk of a car. Or: She’d taken a newly-prescribed stomach med that resulted in anaphylactic shock and she was in a coma.

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I called her again. It was 11:15. No answer. I called my husband. “She probably just overslept,” he said, calmly. You know, that never occurred to me. Really. Ten minutes later, she called. “I am soooo sorry, Mom,” she said. “I overslept.”

This is how a mother worries. Or how this mother worries. OK, I catastrophize. But—admit it—don’t you?

Being a mother is all about worrying, big time. Have you noticed that there’s an evolution to it, from catastrophic pregnancy scenarios to graphic teen-year Emergency Room dramas?

When they’re newborns they either poop too much or too little, sleep too much or not at all. Either way, you figure something is wrong. They are not putting on enough weight. They are putting on too much weight. Surely something is wrong. Admiring stranger at the grocery store, who is undoubtedly suffering from some incurable and terribly contagious (but not immediately evident) illness, strokes baby’s cheek. Disaster in the making. More worries: Baby is 8 months old and is starting to walk. (Won’t this permanently damage his soft little leg bones?) Baby is 15 months old and not walking yet. (This can’t be good.)

At 5: She’s not reading yet. What’s wrong?

At 15: All she does is read. What’s wrong?

You worry when she has too many friends. All those potential bad influences. You worry when he has too few friends. You worry when he isn’t interested in sports. (Will he grow up to be a couch potato? Uncoordinated? ) You worry when she joins a team. (Injury alert!)

You worry when she gets her license. But then you worried more before she got her license and she rode in other kids’ cars. You worry that he aims too high. Too low. You worry that she worries too much.

And then she comes bounding through the front door of Allan Bros Coffeehouse, fresh-faced and clear-eyed from 12 hours of sleep. And she gives you a big smile and a hug. And you worry not at all.

I’m worried that she’s gonna be really, really mad at me.

And now, a word from the teenage daughter:

What does your teen worry about? As a teen who sometimes worries too much and doesn’t tell my mom everything I worry about, I’m kind of an expert. So listen up.

Like this morning. I was supposed to meet my mom at our favorite coffee hang-out to write this blog. We made a date to do it and reconfirmed last night. I overslept. Like a lot. Hours. When I woke up I saw her text: “Where r u????” And here’s the hurricane of worry that stormed through my head: I’m worried that she’s gonna be really, really mad at me. I’m worried that she’s gonna think I’m irresponsible and immature. I’m worried that she’ll never want to do the blog with me again. I’m worried that I made her worry about me (especially after I saw she left two voice mails in addition to the text). And that’s just this morning.

So you probably know about the usual sources of worry that burden your teen because you worried about the same things when you were a teen: grades, tests, popularity, friendships, bullies, body image, clothes, hair, make-up. You have this feeling that everyone has it together but you. Everyone is perfect, and you’re not. Maybe your teen tells you about this stuff. But probably not. It’s not fun to talk about, and pretty much we figure there’s nothing you can say that would make it better; that would make us worry less.

And then there are the little, everyday worries, any one of which seems silly, but together they stay in your brain and really, like I said, create this kind of hurricane. The swirl inside your head takes away your ability to think rationally. Little worries become big worries. And you worry about things that aren’t worth worrying about. Like: Is my deodorant strong enough or do I smell? Did I touch my pen to my face and make a big blue mark that everyone is staring at and won’t tell me? Omg, I just got my period. Does, like, everyone know? I covered all those pimples with make-up this morning…or did I???? Yes, your teen can be this self-conscious. And this worried.

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These are all the reasons why your teen might not want to talk about school when she or he gets home. In fact, your teen might be worried you’ll ask. So give her a break. Don’t ask. I think making home a mellow, welcoming place will help your teen not worry so much. It’s much better than asking them what they’re worried about. Which makes them worry! Get it?

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