Viewers enter the auditorium prior to the screening of Angst at Fort Herriman Middle School on Wednesday, May 30, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

This is the second installment of questions asked by the audience during a recent public screening of the film “Angst” sponsored by the Deseret News. The Deseret News has asked experts from around the country to respond and will continue to do so throughout the course of this series on teen anxiety. We invite readers to submit their own questions to anxiety@deseretnews.com.

Question: Who would we take our child to — what kind of counselor or physician — for help gaining tools to get through fearful experiences?

Answer: There are many wonderful professionals available to help children and teens who are experiencing significant anxiety. These can be psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors or marriage and family therapists. But, be an informed consumer! The main question to ask is, “Do you use an evidence-based treatment for anxiety?” Evidence-based treatments are those which have been scientifically found to be effective, not just “I have years of experience with working with anxiety issues.”

Sometimes, anxiety is only one symptom of a bigger issue, but good therapists will work with you/your child or teen to be sure that the treatment is most appropriate. I have found that treatments with a cognitive behavioral base are best (these provide skills for coping with anxiety and helping to reduce thoughts that are not helpful). For information about effective treatments, consider the American Psychological Association website for therapists in your area. Also, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (www.nctsn.org) has a list of evidence-based treatments, and you can determine if the treatment is appropriate for your child/teen’s age. Most treatments for anxiety are relatively short-term (good news) and extremely effective! Together, you will find that anxiety does not have to interfere with your life.

Answered by Robin H. Gurwitch, PhD, professor, PCIT-International Master Trainer, Duke University Medical Center, Center for Child and Family Health

Question: How does social media and technology affect anxiety?

Answer: Even though the culture of comparison has always existed in some way, the ease of sharing through social media and the online world now amplifies that culture to overwhelming levels.

There is a never-ending flow of new content that creates too many choices, too many opinions, too many scores to hold as comparison. Today, it only takes a few clicks to see what everyone else seems to be up to at any given moment. No matter what, someone could be doing it better/faster/more beautifully. And now, those results are at our fingertips, ready to be consumed and internalized.

Many students begin to equate their social success and self-worth with the number of likes or followers who respond to their postings, and begin to evaluate their personal likeability or social success based on others' responses or how they fit in to their digital social sphere, which all combines to contribute to increased anxiety and worry around how they are perceived online and in real life.

Answered by Ana Homayoun, educational consultant, speaker and author of "Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World."

Question: I feel like electronics — especially phones — have a relationship with anxiety. How can parents monitor their kids' usage in this day and age without being a helicopter parent?

Answer: There are many ways to monitor usage — and parents can and should play a role in helping children have consistent boundaries and limits around their phone use. I often use the analogy that parents wouldn't send their children to the middle of downtown every night, all night — but by giving a child round-the-clock access to their phone, they are in many ways doing the same thing. Children often tell me that they appreciate when their parents take their phones away at night (but would never openly admit that to their parents!) because it allows them to use their parents as the excuse as to why they are unavailable. There are three ways parents can help kids develop intrinsic motivation and consistent structure to monitor usage:

  • Promote personal values development, ask their children to define their own values, develop their own vision of success that isn’t based on external barometers. Over time, students tend to identify what is important to them, which can lead to less need or urgency to constantly see what others are doing.
  • Ask them open-ended questions without judgment about what’s working in their life and what habits they would like to change. Many times, we make the mistake of not helping children identify solutions for themselves. Kids have great observations about social media and phone use — and many times, adults are dealing with the very same issues.
  • Provide the structure for digital detox: a time where the whole family is offline each day. Again, parental modeling and consistency are both key to helping kids build healthy habits. Parents can use apps and devices like Moment, Circle by Disney or Our Pact to monitor phone and app use and turn off access to different social media apps after a certain hour. Apple also recently released new features to help people manage their iPhone use. The No. 1 thing parents need to do is build their own awareness around how their phone and certain apps work.

Answered by Ana Homayoun, educational consultant, speaker and author of "Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World."

Question: When you are aware that your young child (3-5 years old) struggles with severe anxiety, is counseling the best option? Is “play therapy” best or just counseling?

Answer: It is difficult to do a purely talk-based intervention with small children so a therapist is likely going to be using play therapy and behavioral strategies in a session. Additionally, the bulk of the work would be with the parents for children this age and providing them with the skills and information on how to help and work with their children. It will be important to find a therapist that is trained in working with children.

Answered by Kelly Bos, MSW, RSW,www.kellybos.com, international psychotherapist based in Canada

Question: What can we do if we are having trouble getting our teens to open up about what they are feeling?

Answer: It is important to be present for your teen so that they know you are available for them and find that balance between checking in with them directly and giving them space to come to you. Using feeling language yourself, with a range of emotions expressed, also helps create a safe space to talk about how we are doing by modelling that for your teen. This can also be done by talking about how the characters are feeling in a movie you are watching together or discussing and dissecting the different ways people might be feeling in a situation in outside relationships your teen is familiar with.

Answered by Kelly Bos, MSW, RSW,www.kellybos.com, international psychotherapist based in Canada

Question: What can we do if we are having trouble getting our teens to open up about what they are feeling?

Answer: I've spent the past year traveling to over 35 cities talking about my latest book, “Social Media Wellness,” with parents, educators and teens. One of the most common issues I have found is that teens feel their parents aren't fully aware of different social media apps or phone use trends, and are less likely to reach out to their parents if they have an issue. In addition, teenagers are in a precarious time in their development. They want to be independent but still often need structure and support to promote healthy socialization, effective self-regulation, and overall safety (the three S's in my book).

I've long said parents need to make sure their child have supporters and clarifiers in their lives. Supporters are friends or peers they can turn to in a time of need, and clarifiers are adults — maybe a parent, but maybe a coach, aunt, family friend, counselor, clergyperson — with whom the child has a trusting relationship. The goal is that each child has someone — and ideally, multiple people — they can turn to to discuss how they are feeling.

Answered by Ana Homayoun, educational consultant, speaker and author of "Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World."

Question: How can we validate what our kids are going through and help them get better by facing their fears?

Answer: Validating our children’s fears can only happen if there is trust between the parent and the teen. This will happen if you continue to build relationships with them and to spend time with them each week. I feel it is very important to set aside time for your teen each week, which will enable the conversations to flow and for the teen to express their inner thoughts and feelings that concern them. Trust and time are two important pivotal ingredients in unlocking inner feelings and fears.

Answered by John Ogden, outpatient therapist with West Ridge Academy, South Jordan, Utah