Don't Call Teens 'Crazy' — An Explanation For Adolescent Anxiety

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When the New York Times published an opinions piece called "Why Teenagers Act Crazy," we were automatically intrigued. The story focuses on the teenage brain and how its development causes risk-taking and emotional behavior. Although the topic of the story is on-point, we don't exactly love the title. It seems a bit insulting to categorize teens as "crazy" and sometimes words can have more impact than intended. (Check out this past TeenBeing post about the power of word choice to see what we mean.)

Looking past its title, the article hits on several important points about teens. Richard A. Friedman, a clinical psychologist, takes a look at adolescent brain development. He writes,

Largely because of a quirk of brain development, adolescents, on average, experience more anxiety and fear and have a harder time learning how not to be afraid than either children or adults.

Friedman explains that the brain's various regions develop at different rates, especially the amygdala, which is the section of the brain that processes fear. This is why teens have a tendency to experience fear and anxiety, compared to reasoning. The brain's reward center also develops faster, which leads teens to partake in risky behavior without always considering the consequences, according to the article.

A chunk of of his article contemplates the usage of stimulants to treat kids' anxiety disorders, but that seems like a whole other story (which you can read more about here!). Instead, we'll focus on this overarching theme and important takeaway from the piece:

Adolescents are not just carefree novelty seekers and risk takers; they are uniquely vulnerable to anxiety and have a hard time learning to be unafraid of passing dangers. Parents have to realize that adolescent anxiety is to be expected, and to comfort their teenagers — and themselves — by reminding them that they will grow up and out of it soon enough.

If parents and teachers better understand why teens behave the way they do, it helps them know how to react. Instead of attributing it to "craziness," keep in mind that in most cases, emotional behavior is actually wired in their brains. Of course it doesn't necessarily excuse rash behavior, but it can help understand where it's coming from.

Did you know there's a health and well-being magazine for teens? Subscribe today, and check out more articles about combating teen anxiety, including our "Spotlight Survival Guide."