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Stressed out 16 year old

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Stressed out 16 year old

Hi All.
I'm new to this forum.
I'm a single mum of 2 boys, a 15 & 16 year old.
My 16 year old is suffering from severe anxiety which is mostly due to school.
He had always had some difficultly with learning..memory.. cognitive issues since being treated for leukaemia from ages of 7 to now. His chemotherapy was for a full 3 and 1/2 years... but he still struggles with cognition, so learning is a real struggle, even with all the aid and extra help put in place over the years.
Only recently has it progressed to a more severe anxiety.
Last year it turns out not only was he really struggling with study but was being bullied by a male teacher to the point where my son attempted to harm himself when asked to go back to school. This was before we found out about the teacher bullying him .. needless to say my ex pulled him out of that school and into another.. but that still has its problems because now my son has no real friends and his best mates whom he found support in are at the old school.
This year in Jan my son refused to go to school . My ex came around to my house and demanded that our son get up and go to school .. That he wasn't taking no for an answer ... My son got up walked to kitchen and tried to hurt himself. My ex intervened but there was a struggle, my ex then got physical with our son. I will never ever get rid of the look of fear in my son's eyes ☹️. I tried to pull the ex off our son after which the ex started telling our son " What's the matter with you " I told ex to leave.. to get out.. that what he did was totally disgusting and wrong.
Anyway, after I called police and made a statement and they talked to my son.. They suggested he go to emergency and that they would escort the ambulance there.
At hospital after talking to mental health team there, we were referred to a psychologist .
I've been to the new school to sort out what can be done to encourage my son back ... Even though at all interviews with professionals my son agrees to steps needed and short term goals.. When it comes down to it.. he doesn't follow through because he's so stressed.
He has not been at school most of this year only 1 day which was before the incident with his father.
My son is only happiest when on his computer with his mates as he say's they just get him..
I understand that social interactions are different to when I grew up . It's all about online in someway when it comes to my son's friendships.
The social worker asked my son what he does to relieve stress or to calm down when thinking of self harm..and my son said gaming, online chat and graphic digital design .. To which social worker agreed that was a positive thing.
I feel so alone..I know school is important.. but my son's well being is way more important..I know it's imperative to love your children for whom they are and what makes them unique...encouraging them as they get older, in what their passions are... not have unrealistic expectations of what we think they should do or be .I'm happy with whatever my child decides to pursue..
I'm just struggling with the situation now.. As it does seem so dim atm.


Re: Stressed out 16 year old

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Hi there @Fleurry 


Welcome to ReachOut and thank you so much for sharing what is happening for your family with us. This definitely sounds like a time where you need to take advantage of all the support that is available to you. I'm so sorry to hear how hard things have been for your son and yourself. It must be very painful to watch him go through all of these challenges. 


I have to say, you sound like an incredibly strong and loving mum. You have taken all of the right steps by getting the police involved as well as a mental health team. While your son has been really tested in his life, I can hear that he is in safe hands with you. 


My heart goes out to you both after reading what took place earlier this year. That must have been horrible. I just wanted to check in and ask if you have any support at this time? It sounds like having someone to talk to could really help. 


I'll be keeping an eye out for a response from you but in the meantime here are some telephone supports that are available for parents of teens. If you feel like you could use someone to talk to, they are there to support you. We are also here for you. There are lots of parents here that have been through difficult times, I hope some of them can jump in here to offer some words of support. Just going to tag a few wonderful parents in this. 


@JAKGR8 @Dad4good @PapaBill @compassion @sunflowermom 


Also, just letting you know that I edited some of your post as there were parts that were not in line with our community guidelines. You can read through them at some point when you feel up to it here. 


Hope to hear from you soon! 

Parent/Carer Community Champion

Re: Stressed out 16 year old

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It sounds like you are all struggling with your son’s anxiety. It can be very confronting.

I wonder if a full medical check would help at this stage. Just to confirm there are no other issues. We also experimented with the “Fed Up” eating suggestions of Sue Dengate which really helped.

As for school refusal, there are other options available to him at this stage. His school should be able to outline these for him. Even if it means he only goes for Math and English and does other stuff online for a while. Just like weaning off things it can really help to do this in reverse to build ourselves up. Afterall, if he was on workers comp they wouldn’t expect him to return to work full time at first.

Even though screen time relaxes him it will be important for him to have screen free time as well. Just standing on the grass barefoot for a while can be helpful. Make him feel useful around the house or maybe get him volunteering. If he isn’t going to school is it really ok for him to sit at home all day on the computer/phone etc? These are things you can negotiate and compromise on as a family. If he isn’t going to school, what is he going to commit to, to get better? I suppose I am suggesting a gentle give and take here.

If he won’t go to therapy than you can go and be coached in ways to help. Or you could try Reachout’s coaching service.

I have just finished reading a great article by Karen Young, Anxiety in Teens – How to Help a Teenager Deal With. It is very long so I will paraphrase it for you here.

Anxiety has absolutely nothing to do with strength, character or courage.

People with anxiety will be some of the strongest, most likable, bravest people any of us will know. Anxiety and courage always exist together. Courage doesn’t mean you never get scared – if you’re not scared, there’s no need to be brave.

Anxiety happens because your brain thinks there might be danger, even when there is no danger at all.  On average, about 1 in 5 young people have anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t define you. It’s a feeling – it will come, but it will always go, and it’s as human as having a heartbeat.

Understanding why anxiety feels the way it does will be one of your greatest tools in managing it. Imagine being in a dark room that is full of ‘stuff’. When you walk around in the dark, you’re going to bump into things. You’re going to scrape, bruise and maybe drop a few choice words. Turn on the light though, and those things are still there, but now you can navigate your way around them. No more bumps. No more scrapes. And no more having to hold your tongue in front of people who can confiscate your phone.

Anxiety happens because a part of your brain (the amygdala) thinks there might be something it needs to protect you from. When this happens, it surges your body with a mix of neurochemicals (including oxygen, hormones and adrenaline), designed to make you stronger, faster, more alert and more powerful so you can fight for your life or run for it. This is the fight or flight response. It’s normal and healthy and it’s in everyone. In people with anxiety, it’s just a little quicker to activate.

The amygdala acts on impulse. It’s a do-er, not a thinker – all action and not a lot of thought. It just wants to keep you safe, because safe is a lovely thing to be and because that’s been its job since the beginning of humans. The amygdala can’t always tell the difference between something that might hurt you (like a baseball coming at your head) and something that won’t (like walking into a party) – and it doesn’t care. All it wants to do is keep you safe.  Here’s the powerful secret: Your amygdala will ALWAYS listen to you. It wants you to be brave – but you will need to be the boss.

When there’s nothing to flee or nothing to fight, there’s nothing to burn the neurochemical fuel that is surging through you. The fuel builds up and that’s why anxiety feels the way it does.

Here are some ways to manage anxiety by strengthening the structure and function of your brain in ways that protect it against anxiety. Remember though, the brain is like any other muscle in your body – it will get stronger with practice.

  1. Mindfulness - changes the brain the way exercise changes our body, can improve concentration, academic performance, the ability to focus, and it can help with stress and depression. It also increases gray matter. Reachout has some great apps for this.
  2. Yoga combine exercise and mindfulness.
  3. Breathe
  4. Food - You’ve gotta look after your belly – increasingly researchers are thinking that an unhappy belly can make an unhappy brain sending funky messages back to your brain.
  5. Be kind to yourself.

Anxiety is something that happens, not something you are.

Negative thoughts can be very invasive and resilient. They won’t ease by telling your son not to think them, not to worry about them, not to listen to them, or by arguing about the rightness or wrongness of those thoughts.

Karen Young does this with anxious people.

Do NOT to think of pink elephants. Whatever you do, don’t think of pink elephants. Do NOT think of pink elephants with big sunglasses and fluffy pink coats and shiny pink leggings. Do not think of pink elephants. Seriously! Stop! Don’t think of pink elephants. Have you stopped thinking of pink elephants yet? You know, the ones in the coats and the leggings – the pink ones?

Now … think of blue monkeys. Imagine big, fluffy, friendly, blue monkeys swinging from vine to vine. Imagine blue monkeys everywhere. Imagine big huddles of blue monkeys eating banana bread, telling jokes and laughing so hard they fall on their fluffy blue bottoms. Dark blue, light blue, middle blue – so many blue monkeys. 

What’s happened to your pink elephants now?’

Our brain can hold only so many thoughts. The more negative thoughts there are, the less positive ones there will be. Children need to understand that they have a lot of power in controlling which thoughts take up their ‘thinking space’. If they think more positive, strong, brave thoughts, eventually negative thoughts be squeezed out of business. This will take lots of practice.

It’s important that all teens understand the power they have to change and strengthen their brain. This starts with knowing that it’s possible.

‘Every thought, feeling and action creates a pathway in your brain. These pathways are important because it’s how the information travels from one part of the brain to the other. Whenever you do something over and over, that pathway becomes stronger and stronger. The stronger the pathway, the stronger that part of your brain, and the easier that behaviour, thought or feeling will be.

When you think brave, strong thoughts, ‘I can do that’, or ‘whatever happens I’ll be okay,’ those thoughts form a pathway. The more you think those thoughts, the more real they’ll feel. This is also the way for anxious thoughts. The more you think anxious thoughts, the more anxious thoughts you’ll think – so it’s important to think strong, brave thoughts whenever you can.

Some research has found that writing down negative thoughts, ripping them up and throwing them away makes it easier not to think about them.

Even better, writing positive thoughts down on paper, and then putting the paper in a pocket to keep the thoughts safe, makes those thoughts more influential.  

Conversations on replacing negative thinking with strong thinking have to happen during times of calm. An anxious brain is a busy brain, and laser focussed on staying safe. Assuring anxious kiddos in the midst of anxiety that there is nothing to worry about won’t help. The truth is that they are worried, and something doesn’t feel right. To an anxious brain, the only reason you aren’t worried is because you don’t get it. This can escalate feelings of helplessness and fear. The more you argue that they’re okay, the more they’ll argue back. An anxious brain is a strong brain, and it will defend its fears and anxious thoughts as hard as it needs to. The good news is that as strong as their anxious thoughts might be, your child will always be stronger. The trick is getting them to realise this, but there will be time for that when the anxiety has passed. In the midst of anxiety, what kids need is to know that you’re on their team, and you get it.

Research has found that gratitude can increase our tendency to recall positive memories. Positive memories will lead to positive thoughts. Encouraging a regular gratitude practice will help to strengthen the tendency to recall positive memories, which will in turn help to tilt thinking towards the positive.

Our kids need to understand the importance of their thoughts. Brave thoughts make you feel brave. Coping thoughts will help you cope. Worrying thoughts make you feel anxious. 

And we all have everything we need inside them to be brave, strong, and happy.

You can do this. Big hugs and let us know how it is going. 

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Re: Stressed out 16 year old

Thanks for your lengthy reply.
I try so much to encourage my son to do other things.. Like just going out with me for lunch or treat.. Or into garden.. Most times he's not interested.. He does on occassion of his own choice, go to shed to do stuff.
He is seeing psychiatrist.. psychologist and councellor.. And had done well to even get in car to attend these appointments.
I've tried to encourage him to do some subject for school at home but he just won't apply himself but there are other possible biological circumstances regarding his cognitive/memory issues and the treatment he had for his MRI has been organised.
Just taking one day at a time but I do feel very alone
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Re: Stressed out 16 year old

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Hi @Fleurry , 


I just wanted to check in and see how you are doing with your son, I was just catching up on this thread. It sounds like you have both had a huge amount to deal with and some really complex problems, especially given the added factor of your son having possible cognitive and memory issues from his leukaemia treatment. 


You mentioned earlier that he's at his happiest when he's on his computer with his mates, and that he also loves gaming and digital design. It's great that he does have those passions and has a social outlet and support network online, but I also hear your concerns that he's not getting out much and enjoying the world. Does he have any friends that also enjoy tinkering in the shed? 


It sounds like your son went through a really traumatic time at his old school, and school refusal is a problem that isn't uncommon, especially when there's been a history of bullying. It sounds like the new school are pretty on board with trying to help your son get back to attending school , how is that going at the moment? 


I came across this resource on school refusal which links in to some different services, which I thought may be helpful for you? 


We also have a page on ReachOut parents which includes videos from people who've been through the same thing, talking about what's worked for them. 


Thinking of you, please keep us updated on how you're going. It sounds like it has been a really rocky road for your son, and he's lucky to have such a switched on, caring and committed mum in his corner. I hope this term is a better one for you all. 

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Re: Stressed out 16 year old

Thanks for your reply .
His mates from his other school are not calling or contacting him.. He tries to message and the like ..but no response.☹️
He's not wanting to do anything, as much as I try to encourage him..He just refuses..I'm literally so weak emotionally..seeing this happen to him.
He was happy at 13,14 years old.. Making stuff with mates.. Staying at mates houses.. His mates always welcome at my place,.. Was going to school every day..but the decline and anxiety just appeared at 15 , 16 years old.
He is a quiet individual.. rather introverted..very softly spoken..I have looked into so much regarding anxiety etc..and he does exhibit some traits similar to that of Asperger's..but he is in a state of depression..very hard to even make a suggestion to him as he gets aggrevated easily.
I feel so lost.
We are seeing a social worker and a psychologist and will see psychiatrist.
He will have an MRI too.
See what transpires.. One day at a time.. But I do panic at the situation.. quietly within.

Re: Stressed out 16 year old

Hey there @Fleurry 


Thank you for updating us. I can see how much it's hurting you to see your boy struggle but I can also see that you are a fiercely loving mum - as long as he has your support and love I believe the clouds will clear for him. 


I know you're feeling lost but even with how hard things are you are still taking all the right steps. As you said, one day at a time. Let us know how the appointments with social worker and psych goes - we are all thinking of you and your son. 

Active scribe

Re: Stressed out 16 year old

Hi Bre-RO
Thanks for you reply.
I am really having my spirits lifted by the compassion.. It really does help as I am in introvert and I'm single with no partner in my life.
I have family who care but they live a fair distance from me.
My beautiful son is struggling.. He sleeps most days..and active at night but only to be on his computer.
I try so hard to let him know I'm there for him to talk to him or take him out some where..but he has to come to me in his time ..I feel like I'm slipping down a dark abyss .. It's so frightening... and numbing ☹️

Re: Stressed out 16 year old

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Aw @Fleurry you must be in so much pain. I'm really grateful that you found our forum and you can talk through it here. Do you think it would be helpful to get some more support? We do have a partnership with The Benevolent Society where you can get some one on one support here


It's good to hear you have family that cares but it can be so hard when they don't live close. Do you speak with them on the phone about how you've been feeling?  

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Re: Stressed out 16 year old

Hi Bre-RO
Yes I talk to my family quite a bit ...but many just don't know what to say.
Today Jake did go to councelling but didn't want to talk.. But at least he got out of bed to attend and listen so that is great and makes me so happy.
I really have to step back and not let my fear of him not attending school and getting behind worry me.. because it can only be at his pace or any unreasonable expectation only makes him retreat emotionally all the more.. His councellor was trying to explain to Jake that some steps to return to school would be better that doing all school work online because in the real world just going to work will also be met with some situations he'd have to face too... Jake understood but is adamant he's not ready to go to school.
So Jake has some short term goals of writing down his feelings about any given situation within the week before his next appointment.🙂