TODAY SHOW: Newport Academy Featured on a Special ‘Today’ Show Series

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Newport Academy on the Today Show

The Today Show came to Newport Academy to learn the truth from teens struggling with mental health concerns.

NBC’s Maria Shriver visited Newport Academy to kickoff of the Today Show’s special series, “The Secret Lives of Teens.” Maria spoke with a group of Newport Academy alumni who bravely shared their stories. In the series, they touched on teen anxiety, teen depression, self-harm, and learning the tools to cope.

This edition of the series focuses on teen anxiety. Below is the transcript of the segment.

Matt Lauer, Today Show host: We’re talking about some issues that teens commonly deal with but also commonly hide from their parents. Maria Shriver is here. She’s the parent of four children; one is still a teenager. Maria, good morning.

Maria Shriver: Good morning, Matt. Thanks so much. Well, we’re kicking off this series with a big topic: anxiety. More and more kids are suffering from it, so we gathered up a group of teens together to talk about anxiety, why they seem to have it, what we as parents can learn from it, how we contribute to it. Take a look …

Below is a transcript of the ‘Today’ show conversation.

Teens Feeling Pressure

Fifteen-year-old Annamarie was a straight-A student.

Annamarie: I would always have trouble breathing when I was feeling anxious and I’d kind of feel my chest tighten.

Maria: Seventeen-year-old Jake was a popular athlete.

Jay: It’s a lot of fleeting thoughts in my head, a lot of fear, but I don’t really know what I’m afraid of.

Maria: Today, an estimated 1 in 10 teens experiences anxiety so severe that it disrupts their lives.

Annamarie: Everyone that I know has some form of anxiety. It’s scary.

Maria: We went to Newport Academy, a behavioral treatment center, to talk to these high schoolers about the anxiety from parents, friends, and school. [Speaking to a group of Newport Academy residents] How many of you kept your anxiety a secret?

Jay: Well, for me, because that was definitely a big thing, was hiding it. So, showing things like fear and sadness were almost taboo.

Annamarie: I didn’t see any other people in my life struggling with anxiety, and so I never wanted to show anyone how anxious and stressed out I really was.

Maria: So many parents today are referred to as “helicopter parents.” They’re trying to get you the best SAT tutors, they’re trying to get you after school help, they’re trying to get you to get a scholarship on a sports thing. You guys are all nodding. Is that causing anxiety?

Jay: Absolutely.

Annamarie: Yes.

Jay: And from a really early age, I was exposed to the idea that if you don’t get into a good college, you’re not going to be successful in life, you’re going to amount to nothing. And so I was really stressed out about getting good grades.

The Impact of Social Media on Teens

Maria: Another stressor, pretending online to be someone they weren’t. [To the group] Did social media exacerbate your anxiety?

Annamarie: On social media, I was a different person, I was having fun all the time, I was outgoing when in reality I wasn’t, and it was causing me a lot of anxiety to keep that up.

Maria: Experts say, while some anxiety in teens is normal, there are warning signs it’s become a problem.

John Piacentini, PhD, professor of psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA School of Medicine: Probably the biggest issue is one of avoidance, so teens that are anxious tend to avoid things that they find frightening. And this can be going to school, this can be social relationships, not going to work.

Maria: To numb themselves, some teens secretly use alcohol or drugs.

Jay: I started to lead a double life. I mean it was basically, wake up in the morning, get dressed and everything, be really nice to my mom—“I love you, mom”—and she drops me off and then I walk on to school and I’m known there as the stoner kid.

Maria: And your mother had no idea that when you got out of that car and said, “I love you, mom,” that you were a druggie in school?

Jay: She had no idea, no.

Maria: Others turned to self-harming behavior like cutting. One survey shows nearly one in five college students have tried it. [To the group] Explain that to me. I’m a mom. It’s hard for me to understand how cutting yourself actually helps.

Annamarie: It kind of took my mind away from the emotional pain and I would completely forget about everything that I was dealing with because something else hurt.

Maria: Through treatment here, these teens say they’ve learned healthier ways to cope.

Teen Anxiety and Learning to Cope

Jay: And a big cause of my anxiety was the fear of the unknown, the fear of what might happen, and so one thing that really helps me is just trying to stay in the moment.

Annamarie: The biggest tool for me is probably honesty, honesty with myself for where I’m really at, and honesty with the people that are here to help.

Maria: So, experts say honesty is the key. We have to encourage our children to talk to us about what they’re feeling, what they’re going through.

A huge thank you to the Today Show for honoring the remarkable bravery and honesty of these teenagers. 

Feature originally published on the Today Show.