Dear Dr. G.,
Before I had my kids I wasn't really much of a worrier. Of course, I worried about some things like whether or not I'd find a good job, a kind husband, and my health. I don't remember staying up nights worrying though.
I am now the proud mom of two teens. My son is 17 and my daughter is 14 going on 21. When they were infants I worried about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. When they were toddlers I worried about whether or not I was dealing with their tantrums in the right way. When they started school I worried about whether or not they would fit in. I worried about whether the other mothers would like me. All of these things seeemed to work out fine. My kids were generally healthy and had friends and their tantrums seemed to subside when the books said they were supposed to.
Now, my kids are teens and I have new worries. What if I forget to remind them to drive safely and then something happens? What if I am not aware of poor friendship choices and they get involved with the wrong friends? Suppose I let them sleep over a friend's house and an older brother hurts one of them. I am constantly asking myself "What if?"
Please Dr. G—give me some advice. How much worry is the right amount of worry?
A Worry-Wart Mother
You are right. Once we become parents most of us start to worry more. We are now given the responsibility to take care of not only ourselves but of new people that we have brought into this world or maybe even adopted. And, we now have a moral, legal, and ethical responsibility to take good care of these kids.
Some amount of worry is healthy. A moderate level of worry can serve as a reminder for us to keep our kids safe and to look after their health and well-being. Too much worry on the other hand can be debilitating for both parents and their children. This can happen in a variety of different ways:
1. You may instill a great deal of anxiety and fear in your child.
2. Your child like you may come to view the world as a terrifying place.
3. You may make decisions based solely on fear rather than based on concern AND rational thought.
4. The stress associated with chronic worrying can make both you and your kids physically and mentally unhealthy.
There is a tendency for parents, particularly moms, to think that if they worry enough then bad things will not befall their kids. This is to a large extent superstitious thought.
Here is my answer to your question about how much worry is the right amount. As long as the worry is guiding you to help your teens' make good decisions then you are worrying well. When your worry interferes with sleeping, eating, and the quality of your relationships with your kids then it is time to check things out with a therapist. It sounds to me like your worry level has reached a very uncomfortable place. Get a little help for yourself and then write back and let me know how it goes. Good luck and thank you for checking things out.
Barbara R. Greenberg, Ph.D. is currently a professional consultant on teen issues at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, CT. She also maintains a private practice in Fairfield County, CT.
She served as a clinical administrator on an adolescent inpatient unit at a private psychiatric hospital for 21 years before dedicating herself to private outpatient practice and consultation work.
She and her professional partner, Jennifer A. Powell-Lunder, Psy.D, met over a decade ago during an interview for a clinical position. That first introduction resulted in a meeting of the minds. What started as a professional relationship has bloomed into a strong friendship and has served as an even greater support network for each other’s triumphs and challenges.
The concepts behind both their website Talking Teenage and their book Teenage as a Second Language are a culmination of hours of professional experience and collegial chatter.
"From early on in our respective careers we have perceived ourselves as students of adolescent language and behavior. We have listened and learned from the finest of teachers…the hundreds of teens and parents who continue to touch our lives daily."