This guide is written from the perspective of a former teen who struggled with mental health, and a current young adult who can reflect on the impact of her parental relationships on her mental health journey.
Mental Health and Teenagers
Mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. From childhood to adolescent years, facing mental health issues for the first time can be detrimental for the teenage mind and soul. It can determine how we handle stress, form interpersonal relationships, and make everyday healthy choices. Parents have a transformative role in guiding, supporting, and understanding the struggles faced by their teens. In addition to helping teens gain self-confidence, resilience, and independence, the parental relationship has a huge impact on a teen's ability to tackle moments of adversity during their teenage years and beyond.
Set Balanced and Healthy Boundaries
When building conversation with your teen, always set healthy boundaries to make sure that your child can explore dynamic relationships and curate their identity without judgement.
By having the freedom to form positive and authentic connections in their relationships, teens can have vulnerability and find trustworthy and safe avenues of support during hard times. Unhealthy or overbearing emotional and mental boundaries from parents can cause teens to lose their sense of belonging, hinder their ability to form a support network, and often make them overlook their self-worth.
Even though it can be uncomfortable for parents to allow their teens to make mistakes and explore their identity, it allows teens to build trust in their parental relationships in the long run. Thus, setting balanced parental boundaries can help teens feel more comfortable opening up about their mental health struggles.
Encourage Independence & Social Connection
During the years that teens explore their identity, expand their avenues, and face mental health barriers, forming a supportive social network can have a transformative impact on their mental health. As a parent, it's crucial to encourage independence and flexibility to help teens find reliable hobbies, friends, and networks to depend on when faced with adversity.
It's important to provide opportunities for your teen to build supportive relationships early on, rather than forcing their vulnerability during moments of crisis. By allowing your child to find other avenues of support, you're able to naturally build a trustworthy relationship with your teen over time. In addition, when you respect the decisions and acknowledge the mistakes that your child makes, you directly shape their ability to learn and grow through high's and low's during teenage years and beyond. By celebrating their individuality and social independence, parents have the power to directly shape their teens' journey with mental health.
Connect with the Right Resources & Support Network
As a parent of a teen experiencing overwhelming physical, emotional, and psychological changes, being knowledgeable about mental health resources can be incredibly important. Understanding and informing your teen of cognitive behavioral therapies, support groups, psychologists, psychiatrists, and school counselors can help your child feel more supported at home.
In addition, by encouraging mindfulness and speaking candidly with your teen about their stressors, you can empathize with the challenges and burdens your teen faces. Because of the diverse mental health challenges faced by teens, it's important to connect quickly with a professional, such as your primary physician, who can identify your teen's challenges and direct them to the proper resources if needed. De-stigmatizing mental health begins at home, with the proper information, support, and resources provided by parents.
Identify your Child's Stressors and Stress-Relievers
Oftentimes, struggles with mental health can be linked to stressors such as seasonal changes, social interactions, going through a parent's divorce, moving houses, or relationship problems. As a parent, identifying patterns of stressors - such as anxiety triggered by social interactions or depression triggered by seasonal changes - can be incredibly helpful in preventing and managing mental well-being.
Oftentimes, these "stressors" might be less obvious, and speaking with your teen can help you look out for repeating signs and symptoms. In addition, recognizing stressors can help parents offer time and space for positive coping mechanisms - such as journaling, yoga or meditation, hiking, or just going out with friends.
Allow Time and Space for Distractions
For a teen faced with low motivation, self-esteem or anxiety, dedicating a space and time to be distracted from their stressors can cause temporary relief. A big component of having empathy for your child's mental health struggles includes giving them the flexibility to skip their soccer practice to watch TV or leave dinner early to go out with friends.
By creating boundaries and also setting aside time for your teen to be distracted during moments of stress, you create an avenue for them to be temporarily distracted. Although it's important to seek help and resources, oftentimes, preventing a mental health breakdown can simply mean prioritizing self-care and avoiding responsibilities for a few days.
Teenagers and young adults: share your journey with mental health with #onmymind. Help parents under what's on your mind and how they can best support, guide, and encourage you during hard times.