Teen Mental Health - What Parents Can Do
It has been over 1 year since the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. Untreated mental health problems interfere with all aspects of development. Youth with poor mental health may struggle with school and grades, friendships, self-esteem, and their physical health. Mental health problems in teenagers are often associated with risky behaviors which affect their physical health as well, such as drug use, sexual behaviors, and experiencing violence. Many health behaviors are established in adolescence and carry over into adult years.
So what can parents do to help their children through this crisis? Research shows that feeling connected to family and school helps promote positive mental health and protect adolescents from poor mental health and risky behaviors. Building strong bonds and relationships with friends and adults in school, the community and at home provides youth with this sense of connectedness. Teenagers need to know someone cares about them. Connections can be made virtually or in person. However, there is some evidence the connections online are less emotionally satisfying and can lead to greater feelings of social isolation for some teens.
Supporting your child in building self-esteem is a protective factor in the face of disappointment. Self-esteem is the understanding that as individuals we are of value and have a purpose. Adolescents who think of themselves as valuable are more likely to believe they can be successful and set goals for themselves, and they are more likely to stand by their own beliefs and not be influenced as much by peer pressures. The best way to help children and teenagers build self-esteem is to get them involved in something that they’re interested in. It could be sports, music, building, volunteering, anything that they enjoy and gives them confidence. When kids learn to feel good about what they can do instead of what they have or how they are perceived by others, they are happier and better prepared for future success.
Give your child a happy home. Communication is paramount for this. Talk with your teenager without judgement, ask open ended questions, show interest in what they have to say, and give them your full attention. Make your home a safe place for them to express their thoughts and feelings. Let them know that you love them and that you value what they say. This is not the same as not having expectations about behavior or grades. Have expectations without judgment and without making your child feel as if you don’t like them for who they are. Let your teen know that you love them no matter what, that they can say what they feel, and that you will always help them. Do your best to listen more than you talk; be empathetic and forgiving.
The impact of social media on children and adolescents’ mental health has been a topic of great concern. There have been many studies linking use of social media with negative mental health outcomes, however this does not mean that it is causative. There are both positive and negative effects that need to be considered. Electronic devices and social media connect teens with friends but can also contribute to problems with mental health. Most teens report positive feelings associated with social media use, however about 25% of teens say that social media makes them feel worse about their own lives. Additional negative effects can be an entire article on its own, and some teens are more vulnerable than others. Parents need to watch closely to see how electronic use and social media use affects their child and have open communication about curated images and edited feeds.
Make sure your child is getting enough sleep and physical activity and offer healthy, nutritious foods at home to support both physical and mental health. School aged children need 9 to 11 hours of sleep. Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep. Parents also need to pay attention to their own mental health and electronic use. Children pay more attention to what parents do than what they say.
We are in the midst of a pediatric mental health crisis, but children and teenagers are resilient, and it is never too late to make changes to promote positive mental health. If your child is showing signs of anxiety or depression, call the office and make an appointment to talk with a doctor.
Further information and resources:
Watch our video tips on Teen Mental Health, from another one of our Behavioral Health providers.