What Parents Can Do to Promote Teen Wellness
Teen mental health and wellness has rapidly become one of the foremost challenges facing parents and caretakers of young people. In recent decades, the prevalence of depression among teens and young adults has risen by more than 35 percent, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has estimated that 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 struggle with mental health issues each year.
Struggles with mental and emotional wellness often begin at an early age. NAMI reports that at least half of all mental health conditions arise by the time a person turns 14. This startling fact underscores the importance of tending to mental health from an early age.
These statistics can be daunting for parents, but there are number of things they can do to instill habits that promote mental health. Moreover, they can learn to act as advocates for their teens’ long-term mental wellness and emotional health.
Here are some steps parents can take to create a firm foundation of understanding, awareness, and proactivity regarding their teens’ mental wellness.
1. Teach children positive coping skills.
Parents’ availability and support can go a long way in helping their teens feel emotionally secure. However, it is also extremely important to help them learn strategies to tackle their own challenges. Coping skills for kids and coping skills for teens are essential. Parents should begin teaching positive, healthy ways to manage negative emotions when the child is young. Coping skills activities for groups, such as support groups or youth programs, can help, too.
By helping children learn to respond to their emotions in a constructive manner from an early age, parents empower them to navigate future emotional struggles. Additionally, it may even help them avoid bouts of depression or anxiety. Good coping skills also enable youth to overcome the larger challenges they will face throughout life. Thus, they are able to more easily put negative situations in perspective and seek constructive solutions to problems that initially seem overwhelming.
The most effective coping strategies for teens depend on their personality and specific needs. However, in general, successful coping tools allow teens to acknowledge, understand, and express their emotions while shifting toward a more positive, constructive mindset.
Healthy coping mechanisms to better manage sadness and stress include:
- Breathing exercises, visualization, and meditation
- Creative outlets, such as music, drawing, or writing
- Movement, including yoga and dance
- Outdoor activities in nature
- Reaching out to trusted friends and mentors
- A more structured schedule.
Regardless of your teen’s preferred coping techniques, it’s important to promote the importance of these positive coping strategies. Moreover, teens need alternatives to negative coping behaviors. Parents should be sure to emphasize the importance of constructive teen coping skills in comparison to the dangers of self-destructive outlets such as substance abuse.
2. Educate teens about mental health and illness.
It is important for both parents and teens to be aware of the mental health challenges that affect youth, including common conditions and their symptoms. This will allow them to better differentiate between the normal emotional ebbs and flows of life and the signs of more serious mental health conditions, such as an anxiety disorder.
Parents should also strive to help teens understand that mental health challenges are a normal part of life and not cause for secrecy or shame. Thus, work to normalize conversations and concerns about mental health, and do your best to remove stigmas or misconceptions that may be clouding your teen’s understanding of mental wellness. In this way, you can help your teen see that mental health issues are not only normal and very common, but also surmountable.
3. Encourage mind-body wellness.
Mental and emotional health are closely intertwined with physical health. While a healthy lifestyle does not always prevent mental illness, it can go a long way in helping to maintain a healthy mental state.
Encourage your teen, both by suggestion and by example, to take part in regular exercise and consume a balanced diet. In addition, they will benefit by making time for hobbies, causes they care about, and social activities. Social wellness is particularly important for good mental health.
You should also ensure that your teen is getting enough sleep. To do so, you may need to set a “technology curfew.” This is important, as the use of smartphones and other mobile technologies are increasingly cutting into young adults’ sleep.
4. Communicate openly and often.
There will most likely be times when your teen is reluctant to discuss a particular emotional challenge. Even so, the knowledge that parents are available to listen and provide support can be an invaluable source of comfort.
Make it clear to your teen that you are available to talk whenever they need you, and make an effort to check in with them on a regular basis. Moreover, when your teen comes to you with a problem, resist the urge to judge, argue, or offer an abundance of advice. Instead, strive to understand what your teen is going through. Therefore, you will learn how you can best support them through this challenge.
5. Let teens know that help is available.
Sometimes, positive coping mechanisms and the support of loved ones are not enough to overcome a mental health challenge. In these cases, it’s particularly important for parents to help teens understand that mental illness is not shameful. Furthermore, parents should introduce teens to the resources that are available. They can help teenagers understand that therapy is not an acknowledgement that something is “wrong” with the teen. Rather, it is tool they can use to take control of their mental health.
You might also choose to help your teen select some smartphone applications designed to support mental health. These tools provide everything from coping resources, such as guided meditation apps, to professional wellness counseling services for mental health crises. They can provide an extra level of support for teens working to improve their mental wellness.
Finally, by helping teens form a better understanding of their own mental health, parents can help provide the building blocks for a positive and fulfilling life.
National Alliance on Mental Illness