How Parents Can Improve Teen Mental Health
A report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is raising alarm bells about the mental health of teens and young adults in the US. But, there is reason for hope. The report identified science-backed strategies for parents to use to ensure their teens remain mentally and emotionally healthy.
Many Factors Influence Mental Health
Good mental health is more than not having a mental illness like anxiety or depression. It’s a state of emotional and behavioral well-being that allows adults and teens to thrive. And there isn’t a single cause, such as smartphones or bullying, that clearly explains changes in mental health. Rather, many different factors influence mental health, all of which may explain in part why we’re seeing increases in poor mental health among teens.
Mental health is influenced by factors like family history, childhood experiences, and people’s surroundings. Conditions like depression and anxiety can be inherited from parents; however, parents mustn’t think that because they have a condition, their children are destined to have it as well. It does mean that their children deserve extra protective factors, like strong developmental relationships, and that parents taking care of themselves is a priority. Brain development throughout childhood and adolescence also impacts mental health. Extensive brain growth occurs during adolescence, and brains are shaped by the physical and social environment around us. Pollution, toxins, and drugs can interfere with brain development and are linked with poor mental health. These effects may be amplified by the social environment, particularly if teens experience toxic stress or adverse childhood experiences, like bullying, abuse, or neglect.
Poor Mental Health Increasing Among Youth
Unfortunately, poor mental health is on the rise among teens. Compared to 2005, about half a million more teens reported a major depressive episode in 2014. About 32% of children and teens report having an anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental illness among young people. For decades now, suicide has been one of the leading causes of death for young people, ranking #3 for young teens and #2 for older teens and young adults. This is why so many people are concerned about TV shows like 13 Reasons Why, which raised worries about glamorizing suicide in teens.
However, there are many science-backed strategies parents can use to help ensure their teen is mentally and emotionally healthy. These strategies can help parents turn down the heat on the many factors that affect teen mental health.
Parenting Strategies for Supporting Teen Mental Health
- Use a Balanced Parenting Style. Parents’ best bet is to use a balanced parenting style when raising a child because this approach to parenting leads to better mental health. This parenting style balances warmth and rules, so teens know they are cared for even when they make a mistake. Other parenting styles, such as authoritarian parenting (“You’ll do as I say because I said so!”) or permissive parenting (“Think of me as your friend!”) are linked with poorer mental health because these styles typically don’t provide both the love and supervision teens need (and crave!) to develop in healthy ways.
- Teach Teens How to Cope with Stress. We all experience stress at some point in life. What matters is how we cope with that stress. When stress becomes overwhelming, it can lead to poor mental health. Teens (and adults!) need proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise to manage stress. We offer a stress management plan that teaches teens how to apply a range of coping strategies into daily life. It includes skills such as breaking problems down to be more manageable and teaches about the importance of reaching out for help.
- Role Model Self-Care. Taking care of yourself is a strategic act of parenting because it models self-care. Taking time to enjoy hobbies and relax is vital to maintaining your health and well-being. You should encourage your teen to do the same so they don’t develop the outlook that life is all work and no play. Also, forgive yourself when you make a mistake or are not living to your own standards. Your teen is watching you! The compassion you show for yourself will reassure teens that they can come to you when they need you the most. They’ll learn that just as you are compassionate with yourself, you’ll be compassionate with them.
- Know the Signs. While it’s common to see our teens dealing with stress, we may not always realize when there’s more at play. Teens rely on adults to identify the signs that they may be dealing with anxiety or depression and steer them towards help. But some signs teens exhibit while struggling may be different than adults. For example, showing rage or irritability may be red flags for depression. Don’t rely on sadness because not all depressed teens express sadness. It’s important to be able to recognize possible signs of adolescent depression and anxiety because if left untreated, they can greatly impact teens’ lives and the lives of others around them. Learn more about recognizing the signs of teen depression.
- Seek Professional Help. Reaching out for professional help is a sign of strength. Sometimes, the problems in our lives become so overwhelming that we need help from someone with special training in counseling or therapy. They are able to support our ability to cope. Whether you’re seeking help for yourself or for your child, professionals are eager to help you feel better. For guidance on how to prepare your child to seek help, read this.
The mental health of our young people merits our attention because it’s adults responsibility to keep young people safe and healthy. And when they feel better, we feel better too.
American Psychological Association Help Center
Emotional Wellness – American Academy of Pediatrics
Resources from the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine