15-year-old Luke had been in a dark, angry mood all day long, starting from the moment his mother wished him a cheerful, “Good morning!” and set hot scrambled eggs and a fresh hot caramel roll in front of him at the breakfast table.
Luke ate in broody silence, and his mother felt momentarily thankful for the quiet. If Luke could just get off to school without a screaming mood swing and slamming doors, today would be a good day.
Luke’s mom looked at him chewing the buttery, drippy caramel roll. His eyes were flat, his face devoid of appreciation or joy. She felt anxiety rise in her own chest, but then rationalized it away. “It’s probably just hormones,” she told herself, “and there’s nothing I can do about that.”
Actually, it’s probably not “just hormones.” It’s more likely “launch anxiety.”
(Which is something you can help with more than you might realize.)
Rather than hormones, your teen’s dark moods, depression symptoms, mood swings, blunted, flat emotional responses, and hair-trigger anger are far more likely to be linked to a psychological condition called “launch anxiety.” The good news? Keep reading. There’s a lot parents can do to alleviate “launch anxiety” and help teens to feel better.
What is “launch anxiety”?
Psychologists Laura Kastner, Ph.D. and Jennifer Wyatt, Ph.D. have defined launch anxiety this way: “It’s the near-constant feeling of indecision, doubt, uncertainty, insecurity, and fretting that accompanies the transitioning of teens in late high school, and extending through college. It’s experienced by teens, but it’s also experienced by parents, who feel tied in knots by uncertainty, doubt, insecurity, worry, and fretting about this next step in their children’s lives.”
What launch anxiety feels like to teens
Research over the past several years has noted a near epidemic of anxiety among 21st-century high school and college-age students. Even the ones who seem to be the most confident report that they feel “tremendous pressure.” They tell researchers that they feel “scared a lot of the time.” They report that they tend to feel continually worried and anxious about all the new and strange things expected of them as they pile on activity after activity through the high school years, and then transition alone into the unfamiliar territory of college or working life.
To begin to restore peace in your home, try these 7 things:
1. Take this short quiz.
To gauge whether you or someone in your family might be experiencing launch anxiety, take a look at the symptom list below, excerpted from www.anxietycentre.com. Do these symptoms sound like any teen you know, or any parent of a teen you know?
____Continual feeling of being angry, lack of patience
____Emotionally blunted, flat, or numb
____Emotional “flipping” (dramatic mood swings)
____Everything seems scary, frightening
____Feeling of being down in the dumps
____Frequently being on edge or ‘grouchy’
____Feeling like crying for no apparent reason
____Not feeling like yourself, feeling detached from loved ones, feeling emotionally numb
____Frequent feeling of underlying anxiety, apprehension, or fear
____The feeling that you are under pressure all the time
If so, there’s a good chance you are dealing with some form of anxiety in your home. Now, what can you do about it?
2. Quit telling your child that if he doesn’t get into a good school, he won’t be able to get a good job after he graduates.
This is patently untrue, and it’s harmful. See my previous post on this subject here.
3. Ease up on your kids’ schedules. Please.
Exhausted students who’ve been run ragged in every club, extracurricular activity, and sport can build up layers of anxiety, causing problems with even their future college admissions.
Easing up is OK. Really. Don’t believe me? Read this New York Times article where even the Harvard admissions office laments that the students it’s seeing “seem like dazed survivors of some bewildering lifelong boot camp.” Ease up. Please.
4. Understand that one of the greatest antidotes to anxiety is caring, face-to-face human connection.
Spend one hour with your child outside the house doing an activity you both enjoy. Repeat next week.
No nagging. No worried questions. Just enjoy your child for who she is, not for how she is currently performing in school, sports, extracurricular activities, or college preparation.
You can get specific teaching on this from me by listening to just the first half of the helpful video I’ve posted here.
5. Actively engage with your faith.
Faith empowers and encourages students and parents to look outside themselves for help. It’s a lot easier to relax and let go of anxiety when you have the greatest force in the universe on your side, willing to help.
Being the center of the universe and fully responsible for doing everything all by yourself, though? That’s draining and exhausting. Give yourself and your child a break. Actively engage with your faith both on your own, and by regularly, consistently participating in the life of a safe church or synagogue — and watch anxiety start to lift.
6. At age 16 or as soon as possible after that, get your child career direction help. (Here’s what I mean by that.)
Everywhere I write and speak, I strongly advocate that teens take 3 specific personality, interest, strength, and career assessments as early as 10th grade. Not the robotic-scored ones offered by the high school—I want gold-standard career assessments interpreted by a certified professional. (See Chapter 13 of my book and my TRIBE Membership for details on this.)
Why do I want this assessing done so early? Because getting an exciting sense of possible career goal early on heads off launch anxiety. Plus— it saves parents thousands and thousands of dollars on college, because teens who’ve completed quality career assessment don’t waste time in ill-fitting college classes or majors that aren’t going to lead anywhere.
I don’t administer these career assessments myself (my consulting work is mainly for medical school and grad school applicants), but I provide complete instruction on where to find these assessments in my book, LAUNCH, which you can see below.
7. If the anxiety becomes severe, seek professional help.
Are these feelings just an expected part of growing up? Should you just lump it and deal with it? If the symptoms are just moderate, maybe. But if anxiety symptoms become severe, it’s a good idea to seek help from a school psychologist or other licensed professional.
For clear, step-by-step help that alleviates anxiety throughout the college prep years, get your copy of my book:
It’s a reference book, so nobody reads the whole thing cover to cover. Pick out what you need to read in it using the fast-paced, 10-minute video instructions here.
You can see hundreds of reviews of this book on Amazon by going to:
You can see why financial advising professionals love LAUNCH, here.
You can see the top 9 questions parents are asking me about LAUNCH, here.
Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1–3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college at exactly the right time to implement it.
And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it—especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.
Take a step on this right now. Get regular, inspiring help from me—every Monday morning.
Subscribe to my free weekly email newsletter here. (You’ll especially want to do this so I can alert you to important FAFSA changes that will affect you in the future.)
Do you have very specific questions for me about debt-free college and career for your kids?
My TRIBE Members get the most direct access to me—while feeling good that the pennies per day they spend on the TRIBE help me bring debt-free college strategy to families who could never afford to pay for it. Join my TRIBE Membership waiting list here.
Who is Jeannie Burlowski?
Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, podcast host, and sought-after speaker for students ages 12–26, their parents, and the professionals who serve them. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free, ready to jump directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, Parents Magazine, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.
This article was updated on April 6th, 2023.