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How Do I Help my Resistant Teen? A Guide for Parents of Anxious Teenagers

Updated: Feb 17

As parents, we want nothing more than to protect and nurture our children. So, when we see our teenagers struggling with anxiety, it can be incredibly distressing and leave us feeling helpless.

We may offer help, suggest therapy or counselling, but often our teens refuse to engage. They may become defensive, argumentative, or simply shut down.

So, what can we do when our anxious teenagers refuse all help?

The huge resistance you are witnessing in your teen is largely down to fear, their natural stress responses & a fundamental belief that there is something wrong with them"

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Understanding your resistant teen

First and foremost, it's important to understand that our teens' refusal to seek help is not a sign of stubbornness or deliberate obstruction. Their brains are still developing, and seeking support may feel like a sign of weakness or punishment to them.

They may be embarrassed, ashamed, or simply unsure of how to articulate their feelings. They may also fear the unknown, worry about confidentiality, or believe that therapy won't work.

But there is also something else at play. And that is your teens' natural stress responses.

Sullen, unhappy teenage girl with mum in background with arms folded

The Role of Stress Responses

A crucial factor in understanding our teens' resistance to help is recognising the role of their natural stress responses. These responses, also known as instincts, are primal and ancestral.

They are the body's physiological reactions to perceived threats or danger. While fight, flight, and freeze are commonly known stress responses, there are others that can manifest in our anxious teens:

  • The run instinct (flight) is when our teens try to escape from their problems, This could be by engaging in self-destructive behaviours such as substance abuse or self-harm.

  • The fight instinct is when they resist help because they fear losing control and being controlled by someone else.

  • The freeze instinct is when they feel frozen in their current discomfort because it has become familiar, and they fear the unknown (think rabbit in the headlights).

  • The disassociation instinct is when they mentally check out from their problems, pretending they don't exist.

  • The numbing instinct is when they emotionally shut down to avoid feeling pain.

  • The hiding instinct is when they withdraw from others and hide away, physically or emotionally.

  • The surrender instinct is when they believe nothing can change and give up trying.

  • Finally, the vomit instinct is when they feel physically sick at the thought of change or the unknown.

The words Stress Response System painted in red on a wooden fence

Seeing Beyond the Behaviour

Understanding these stress responses allows us to see beyond the behaviours our teens may exhibit. It helps us realise that their resistance is driven by fear, biological instincts and often, by a belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with them.

It's crucial not to join in with this narrative or see them as broken. Instead, we must hold them in a space of understanding, compassion, and unconditional love.

So How Can Parents Help?

When our teens refuse help, even from us, we need to shift our approach. Instead of speaking to them as if they need fixing, we should relate to them as someone who is struggling but worthy of support.

We must let them know that we understand their pain and are there to support them no matter what.

By speaking to them in this way, we can help them see that there is a different narrative - one that acknowledges their struggles but also recognises their potential and inherent worth.


How Do I Know if it's Anxiety.....and WHAT THE HECK DO I DO?!


The Power of Parental Support

As parents, we are the ones our teens feel safest with. We are the ones they can call on at any time, day or night. We have access to them 24/7.

By becoming their champion and holding them in a space of love and understanding, we can help dispel their negative self-perceptions.

We can help them believe in themselves and their ability to overcome their struggles.

Seeking Support for Ourselves

At the same time as supporting our anxious teens, it's essential not to neglect our own well-being.

Seeking support for ourselves, whether from friends, family, or a therapist, is crucial.

It allows us to navigate the challenges of parenting an anxious teen and ensures that we can provide the support they need effectively.

Happy teenage girl hugging her smiling mum from behind

Moving forward

When our anxious teenagers refuse all help, it can be disheartening and leave us feeling helpless. However, by understanding their resistance and the role of stress responses, we can approach the situation with empathy and compassion.

We must relate to our teens as someone who is struggling but worthy of support, and we must hold them in a space of unconditional love. By doing so, we can help them see beyond their negative self-perceptions and believe in their own potential.

In the future, as our teens grow and develop, they may become more open to seeking professional help. However, the support and understanding we provide as parents will always be invaluable.

By leading with love, compassion, and understanding, we can help our anxious teens navigate their struggles and find their own path to healing and growth.


What next?

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Join the growing community of parents who are turning the tide on their teen's anxiety! Sign up to the mailing list to become a One in a Million Mum (or Dad) and receive practical strategies & ongoing support. Together we can do this!


**Disclaimer: This article is for informational & educational purposes and is not intended to replace medical advice. The use of this information is at the reader's discretion and should not be used as a substitute for the advice of a physician, psychotherapist or other qualified professional, diagnosis or treatment

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