Thursday 2nd March is World Teen Mental Awareness Day. It’s not easy being a teenager. Hormonal changes, a new sense of independence…..throw in some mental health issues into the mix and you find yourself with a very high mountain to climb and a well full of uncertainty and confusion.
Teen Mental Health is very real and rather unsettling for our teens and young adults. The least we can do as parents is raise awareness, support them and offer guidance.
Let Us Look At Some Statistics – UK
2022 Statistics show that 18.0% of children aged 7 to 16 years and young adults aged 17 to 24 years had a probable mental disorder. In 2017 rates rose from 1 in 9 (12.1%) and 1 in 6 (16.7%) in 2020. Probable mental disorder rates have remained stable between 2020, 2021 and 2022.
What Is Teen Mental Health Then?
- Generalised anxiety – Excessive worries/fears/thoughts about everyday matters.
- Social phobias – Feeling inadequate and insecure in social settings.
- Depression – Constantly feeling sad, anxious and/or empty.
The Inevitable Teenage Years
The teen years are testing and turbulent times. An unknown and unexpected curveball for any child. All of a sudden there are these hormonal changes which bring about intense emotions and unwanted feelings. Peer pressure and worry can lead to severe episodes of anxiety. Many of the expectations placed on our youth, such as academic success, social status, extracurricular activities, appearances and being trendy, among others, are without a doubt a major culprit in the rise of mental health cases.
Pair up the above with bullying, obesity, teen suicide, self-harm and deciding what journey to embark on regarding their future, it is no surprise that teenagers are becoming more and more withdrawn.
Parenting Teenagers And Our Role In Their Journey
Parenting a teenager is just as daunting. You think you know what is best for your kid. You think…..but do you really?
As a mother of three (two of them no longer teenagers) I can honestly say it is heartbreaking to watch your kid struggling with their emotions, future decisions and the pressure placed upon them, and not being able to fix it.
So how can we best support our kids? For starters, as parents, we need to understand that they are going through a crucial chapter in their lives. A chapter where they have a great desire to become independent. They want to spread their wings and find their own space in the world. Needless to say, it is a tough transition for parents too. Our initial reaction is to protect them, keep them safe, and bestow on them our infinite wisdom. We desperately hang on to the truth that they are ours, and it is our job to keep them safe. However, what they really need from us is support and understanding, but mostly they just need us to listen.
Teenagers need to be able to find their own identity and make their own mistakes, without the fear of being judged by those they love the most, their parents. Practising compassion with our kids when they can hardly understand the world around them, could ultimately make a big difference in their mental health journey.
THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR – WARNING SIGNS
- Restlessness – feeling constantly on edge
- Lack of concentration – having trouble finishing tasks at hand
- Constant fatigue – feeling tired even when they haven’t been doing physical activities.
- Feeling irritable – small things getting them worked up
- Muscle tension – constant muscle aches
- Difficulty sleeping
- Change in behaviour – behaving out of character
- Social withdrawal – not wanting to go out with friends, not wanting to communicate
- Uncontrolled worry levels.
HOW PARENTS CAN HELP
- Make it safe – make it a non-judgement zone. Avoid lecturing.
- Learn to listen. Most of the time kids just want to be heard.
- Accept their silence – they might not want to speak, and that is okay too.
- Discuss openly mental health. Unfortunately, there still seems to be a stigma around the subject. Let your kids know it is okay to discuss it.ke professional help accessible to them.
Encourage them to:
- Keep doing things they love
- Help them identify the good healthy people in their life.
- Help them choose healthy coping methods – don’t impose, let them choose freely – e.g
- Going on long walks
- Time with friends
- DIY projects
Helpful article right here:- Self-Help Books for Personal Growth
TIPS FOR PARENTS
- If your kid is going through a rough time, don’t blame yourself. You are NOT to blame.
- Whether we like it or not, mental health is a part of life.
- Practice self-care. You cannot serve from an empty cup. Make sure you prioritize your health too.
- Talk to a trusted friend or family member. Don’t carry the weight all by yourself.
My Own Experience With Teen Mental Health
No, I won’t try and reminisce about my teen years, after all, that was many moons ago and it was a different time. I can, however, tell you about my experience with my middle daughter and how academic pressure played a part in her mental health.
I am not afraid to admit that I made many mistakes when it came to Celine. We are both very different in character and I thought that pushing her was what she needed. Whilst I am a doer, Celine has more of a laid-back personality. Having said that, I have to add that laid back or not she always manages to get everything done.
Honestly though, I truly believed that if she was more proactive she would get more done and succeed. I was wrong. All I wanted for her was not to feel disappointed with herself if she failed, but what I myself failed to understand was that it wasn’t my responsibility to save her from those emotions of supposed failure. My role was to support her however she decided she wanted to play it out. My role was to allow her to make mistakes, learn from them and grow into the amazing young woman she is today.
Celine is currently finishing her teaching degree as we speak. I asked her how that season of stress and uncertainty regarding the future affected her and if there was anything she wished, I, as her mother could have done differently. This was her reply –
“It was certainly a stressful time, but looking back now I think some of my friends struggled more than I did. Of course, I wanted to do well in school, and I knew that my future depended on it (or so I thought it did at the time), but knowing that the only person I could disappoint was myself took a lot of the pressure off my shoulders. I knew at every turn that my parents wouldn’t be disappointed in me because they knew I was giving it my all, therefore I never experienced parental pressure and that helped.
On the days I felt anxious I would take time out. Maybe do my nails, go for a walk with friends, watch a movie, or just simply listen to music. I felt supported by my parents at all times. Something so simple as the endless cups of tea my mum used to make for me whilst I studied went a long way. Yes, we did have arguments, but that was because we both have different approaches to life.
What really helped me though was continuing with my after-school activities. I’ve danced since I was seven years old, and it would have been easy to say, “I won’t dance whilst I’m busy studying”, but my parents encouraged me to keep going to dance lessons. It turned out to be the perfect way to switch off from my everyday responsibilities”
You might be interested in reading:- Self-Growth and Renewal
We still have a 14-year-old son at home, currently considering his subject options and with a clear intention of extending his education and attending university. As we bravely navigate the next few years, I am extremely grateful that this is not our first run. I hope that somehow the experience garnered with our two eldest daughters will serve as a strong and steady guideline to help our son get through the next stage of his young adult life.
In the end, all we can do is be there for them. Love, guidance and support can go a long way towards helping our children manoeuvre the uncertain times ahead.
Final Note: Whilst this is based on my own experience, please don’t mistake this advice for the same as seeking out a professional counsellor who can address your specific situation.
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