I've hit a couple hitches with seeking therapy. I spoke with three therapists this week, all of whom separately suggested that now is not the best time, developmentally, for DD to seek therapy. In their opinions, a 13-year-old girl is typically in a developmental space that makes her resistant to what would be required. They explained that the "treatment" for anxiety isn't talking stuff through or really doing much navel-gazing, but rather "tool-teaching," or cognitive behavioral therapy. Each agreed to see her if I really wanted to pursue it now, but all three of them said they'd rather see a kid at 12 or 14 rather than 13 and that if we were to wait even six months, we might be making better use of our covered sessions. Especially if, as is the case here, the kid is functional and anxiety is not running her life.
They also each asked me whether DD sees this as a problem, or whether it was just her *parents* who see it as a problem. (This, I suspect, is a common question, particularly in the community where we live, where parents tend to be pretty eager to push their kids to be independent and the ability to orient to peers is regarded as success.)
So after talking to these women, I asked DD point blank whether she saw her episodes of anxiety as a problem. She said she'd actually been thinking about that since we talked last week and she said some really interesting stuff. First of all, no, she doesn't currently see it as a problem. But that she used to, because she really didn't understand *why* she would feel nervous when other kids must not. "When I was little," she said, "I used to wish I could just feel happy at birthday parties where there was some fun thing, like a jumpy house. Or in sixth grade, when everyone else was happy at camp." Then she said something else: "But, Mommy, is it *wrong* for me to feel anxious when I'm someplace where the kids are acting like idiots and there's no adult that is really taking charge?" She then described in greater detail the things that were happening at the birthday party last weekend when she got a headache. Some girls were flicking nail polish at each other. Others were using a lot of the f-word. Another one was rifling through the birthday girl's underwear drawer, "totally invading her privacy and ignoring her when she asked her to stop." The birthday girl's mother was nowhere in the vicinity, for the most part, and when she did come in to check on them, did nothing to discourage the behavior. "I don't like it when the kids are acting like buffoons and no one's stopping them," DD told me. "It makes me nervous and makes me feel like anything could happen and that doesn't seem safe because they're just kids, and they're making bad choices and no one's stopping them. I'd rather just not be there." She then pointed out that she doesn't feel anxiety, even in new situations, when there's an adult in charge who seems on top of things.
She seemed bewildered that I, or anyone, would suggest that her discomfort and wish to escape from uncontrolled, unsupervised chaos was a problem.
I rewound things then, in my own mind, and realized that every single episode of memorable anxiety she's had since age, say, 2, has had a common denominator: out-of-control kids and questionable adult supervision. Birthday parties with overexcited kids and harried parents. Preschool, with a ratio of 2 to 24. Kindergarten, with a ratio of 1 to 30, and a classroom full of challenging 5-year-olds and one old lady who needed to retire. Sixth-grade camp. All of sixth grade, with a teacher inexperienced with the age group and 24 preteen, hormone-raging kids in what was a very chaotic classroom. A swim clinic where kids engaged in unsafe water behavior while a teenaged coach looked on wringing her hands. Even at her aunt and uncle's house, the times she had trouble were when her on-top-of-it aunt was out for the evening and her uncle was in charge--a nice guy, but totally ineffective at getting the younger cousins to quit being out of control or buggy. Or the mall, with large bands of unsupervised teenagers. Does she really need to be comfortable in these situations? Is it even wise to suggest she *should* be?
So I have this kid who is attached to the adults in her life. Her parents, many of her teachers, her aunts and uncles, her grandparents, her friends' parents. She has a lovely group of friends who she's also attached to--although secondarily, because she'll turn to adults before she will kids her own age. She's not as peer-oriented as many of her classmates--nor do I want her to be at 13. She's friendly. She's responsible. She's kind. She gets good grades. She allows new people into her life after she's had a chance to observe them and trust them. She wants to escape from situations where kids are running the show, where adults don't have a heavy presence, where she's unsure of the decisions that might get made.
After a couple weeks of stewing on this, and after talking to three therapists, and listening to my DD (who despite not talking a lot actually has plenty to say and plenty of confidence in her own intuition and powers of observation), I guess I'm back to my original question: Is this truly a case of potentially crippling anxiety, or is this a kid who's actually listening to her intuition and showing good judgment?