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What causes anxiety in teens? Both external and internal factors play a huge role, from a personal susceptibility to stress and anxiety, to family dynamics, academic pressure, the news, and social media. Recognizing the signs of an anxiety disorder and its potential causes can help parents and educators provide better support for teens and prepare them for the challenges of early adulthood.

Anxiety disorders affect a growing rate of teens every year, which has expanded the need for teenage anxiety treatment. Experts agree that we’re seeing more anxiety in teens, and not just because we’ve adjusted our diagnostic criteria and improved the screening process. But why? What factors contribute the most to the development of teen anxiety symptoms?

This article explores a common question we hear from concerned parents: what causes anxiety in teens?

Understanding Teen Anxiety

Feelings of worry and fear characterize anxiety disorders. These are normal feelings and part of the human experience, but an anxiety disorder describes a level of worry or fear that is entirely irrational.

Experiencing generalized anxiety, for example, can be debilitating. People who experience GAD latch onto specific events or occurrences in the past, present, or future, and experience irrational worry, often without a specific cause for concern. They are often exhausted and even feel physically tired due to recurring and uncontrollable negative thoughts about what could be or what may happen.

Related: 8 Common Signs of Teen Anxiety and Depression

Phobias are an extreme and particular form of anxiety, where a person’s intrusive and unwanted thoughts revolve around a singular intense fear. A teen with a strong fear of the ocean will not only avoid rides to the beach but may even feel anxious and uncomfortable looking at satellite imagery or depictions of vast open seas.

Some phobias are more debilitating than others. Social phobia, or a social anxiety disorder, is more common among teens than most other anxiety conditions because the age of onset for phobias is earlier than some other forms of anxiety. Teens with social anxiety will struggle to trust others, struggle to communicate, and struggle to foster and nurture friendships at a crucial point in their life.

What Causes Anxiety in Teens?

We know that anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety can be inherited. Genes play a role, and people with more instances of anxiety in their close family are more likely to experience anxiety later in life.

Many environmental factors also play a role in exacerbating or amplifying that risk. For teens, these factors include the loss of the “third place,” increased stressful events both globally and domestically, changes in parenting styles, social media, and even the aftermath of a global pandemic, which continues to have mental repercussions.

Here’s what causes anxiety in teens:

Academic Pressures: Grades, College, and Future

Teens have had to worry about their grades for generations, but today’s teens may worry about school more than their parents.

Not only are higher forms of education becoming an expected standard for employment in many industries, but parents continue to apply greater pressure on their teens than previous generations did.

Studies show that teens and young adults consistently rate academic stress as the dominant stress factor in their mental well-being.

Social Media: Comparisons and Cyberbullying

The Internet is one of the most transformative inventions in human history. Such transformation comes with its benefits and detriments.

Social media, for example, has changed how people interact with each other on a fundamental level—and in many ways, it has damaged how teens perceive themselves and others.

While social media has become a powerful tool for teens to organize into groups and to meet like-minded people across continents and time zones, it also continues to be a potential catalyst for factors encouraging self-harm and anxiety.

Related: The Link Between Screen Time and Anxiety in Teens

Physical Changes: Puberty and Self-Image Issues

Adolescence is an incredibly confusing time for teens, which can contribute to feelings of anxiety, particularly social anxiety.

The teen years include drastic changes in the social hierarchy, upending friendships, and ultimately changing personalities. Furthermore, body image issues fueled by physical puberty become ammunition for bullying and negative self-consciousness.

Family Dynamics: Expectations and Conflicts

As teens learn to individualize and think about their path in life, they begin to distance themselves from family members and seek confrontation and friction with their closest relatives.

The rebellious phase is an essential part of any teen’s mental and social development, but it can also cause stress within a family and lead to conflict. Furthermore, pre-existing problems in the family dynamic – from sibling rivalries and attachment issues to dysfunctional communication or a lack of parental understanding, can exacerbate and worsen feelings of anxiety.

World Events: Uncertainty and Fear

The 21st century has had a tumultuous first few decades, with the explosion of the Internet and the beginning of the war on terror, to the acknowledgment of widespread and increasingly irreversible manmade climate change, multiple record-breaking recessions, the Arab Spring, a war in Europe, and a pandemic of proportions unseen since the Spanish flu.

Teens today are more politically engaged and more vocal on environmental issues, reproductive health, LGBTQ+, and gun control, especially on platforms like Twitter and TikTok.

Teen Anxiety Coping Mechanisms: Healthy vs. Unhealthy

How you deal with stress can play a role in how it continues to affect you in the long term. This is true for teens and adults. Poor coping mechanisms may offer a short-term reprieve from stress but often make things worse over time.

Unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance use or self-harm, temporarily release endorphins but fail to address the underlying stressors and can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Healthy coping mechanisms, such as exercise, help reduce anxiety in the long term.

Support Systems: Role of Family and Friends

By offering a non-judgmental space for teens to express their feelings and concerns, family and friends can contribute to destigmatizing anxiety. Additionally, involving family and friends in treatment planning and implementing supportive strategies can enhance the overall effectiveness of anxiety management efforts.

Related: How to Help a Teen with Anxiety

Professional Help: When to Seek It

Anxiety in teens can be debilitating. It can cause sleepless nights, poorer focus, and memory problems, affecting a teen’s physical health.

It’s essential to consider professional help once a teen’s everyday worries or jitters become recurring, uncontrollable, and irrational fears. Parents, friends, and educators alike should look for telltale signs of teen anxiety, such as fatigue and insomnia, irritability, exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, and excessive worrying.

Related: The Benefits of Counseling for Teen Anxiety

Teen Anxiety Treatment

Are you concerned about your teen’s anxiety? We at Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers offer specialized treatment programs for teens who may benefit from teen anxiety treatment, including residential treatment and intensive outpatient care.

Our evidence-based therapies, compassionate care, and supportive environment can help your teen find peace and make progress toward mental well-being.

Contact us today to take the first step on your teen’s journey.


What causes anxiety in teens?

The most relevant factors include inherited susceptibility to stress and external factors like family dynamics, academic pressure, social media, and global events.

Identifying potential causes can help friends and family provide effective support while preparing teens for the challenges of adulthood. It’s also important to recognize the signs of teen anxiety and encourage professional treatment.