Mental Health in Teens: How Parents Can Help
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted mental health for many people around the world, and teenagers are no exception. Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide have increased among teens over the past two years. Disrupted school schedules and social activities, long periods of isolation, and underlying uncertainty and fear changed the way many teenagers experienced important formative years, and these changes will likely have long-term effects on how teenagers think, behave, and cope with emotions – all key factors in lifelong mental health.
Parents play a crucial role in helping teenagers manage their mental health and navigate life’s challenges. Here are a few tips to better connect and communicate with your teen about mental health.
Listen without Judgment
Perhaps the most powerful thing a parent can do to improve communication with their teenager is to listen to them – without judgment. Let them know that regardless of what they are experiencing, you love them and are there for them no matter what. It can be difficult, but listening calmly without judgment or emotional reactions will help ensure your teen feels heard and validated. This will make them more likely to continue coming to you when they face challenges.
Don’t expect teenagers to start the conversation! Check in with them regularly about how they’re feeling and what’s going on in their lives. Remember that the goal is not to pressure them to talk but to let them know that you are there for them when they decide to.
Keep an Open Door Policy
In addition to listening and checking in, make sure your teen knows that you have an open-door policy. This means that they can come to you with anything, even difficult or sensitive topics, and you will make the time for them.
Prioritize Family Time
Schedule regular time on your family’s calendar to spend time together. This could be a weekly family dinner, a hike or bike ride, or a game night. Make it a rule to unplug during this time so you can truly be present with one another. This provides a great opportunity for you to ask open-ended questions and get to know more about what’s going on in everyone’s lives.
…But Also Just Be Around
Dedicated family time is great, but as anyone with a teenager knows, they often balk at the idea. Luckily, studies have shown that just being around your teen can help them feel more connected with you – and thus more willing to communicate. Look for opportunities to share the same space as your teen without the goal of striking up a conversation. This could mean washing the dishes while they do homework at the kitchen table or flipping through a magazine in the living room while they watch TV. Being a physical presence in their lives without pressuring them to talk can help teens feel more comfortable opening up on their own timeline.
Model – and Communicate – Good Media Habits
Speaking of unplugging – make sure you are helping your teen develop healthy media habits. Talk to them about how to safely use social media, messaging apps, and other media technology in ways that allow them to connect with their peers without damaging their mental health. And make sure you also practice what you preach. Let’s face it, we could probably all stand to cut back on screen time!
Take Care of Your Own Mental Health
Teenagers watch what we do and are quick to jump on any discrepancy between our words and our actions! So it’s important to take care of our own mental health so we can model healthy habits beyond media use. Let your teens see you engaging in healthy coping mechanisms like exercise, meditation, or counseling. Talk to them about why you prioritize good nutrition and sleep hygiene. By taking care of yourself, you’ll not only be better equipped to take care of them, you’ll be showing them how to develop their own mental health toolkits.
There’s no way around it – parenting teens is hard, and the challenges we have faced over the past two years have made it even harder in a lot of ways. By working to keep the lines of communication open and to make sure your teens feel supported and loved, you can help them better manage those challenges and come out stronger.