Simone Biles put a spotlight on mental health. In her we saw a star – someone deemed the Greatest Of All Time – bow out of an opportunity for an Olympic medal and defy expectations of perfection and persevering. She reminded us to prioritize mental health.
“We have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day, we’re human, too.”
Covid shone another spotlight on mental health. During the height of the pandemic, rates of depression and anxiety among teens skyrocketed. Without the normalcy of school, friends, and sports, teens found themselves stuck in a web of fear, worry, and sadness. Motivation and energy took a turn for the worse. Teens suffered!
Now, thankfully, teens are settling back into (mostly) normal routines. At long last, they get to see friends, sit in a classroom, and play on a field! While most are welcoming these experiences, many are moving forward with trepidation. After isolating in their bedrooms for a year and a half, it is intimidating to see peers, teachers, and teammates. Adding to that, there are still many unknowns regarding the future and the impact new covid variants will have on their lives.
As your teen moves forward, teach her how to protect her mental health.
Your teen’s mental health factors into all areas of her life, from making friends and doing well in school to dealing with change and handling challenges. When teens have a mental outlook that is in balance, they are more resilient and confident. They are more likely to be involved in sports and other activities. And they have supportive, like-minded friends. They sleep and eat better. Adding to that, they have a sense of capability and self-assurance.
Five ways to promote your teen’s mental health.
1.Talk about mental health.
Normalize feelings of stress, anxiety, fear, and sadness. Help her understand that these emotions are part of the human experience and while they are uncomfortable, they do not make her abnormal, nor will they ruin her life. Remind her that she is not alone and any mental health issues she may be experiencing are manageable. Provide a non-judgemental listening ear so she knows she can open up to you about her thoughts and feelings.
2. Model mental health.
You are your teen’s greatest teacher and the way you take care of your mental health shows her how to do the same. Consider how you minimize stress and how you can share that approach with your teen. Show her how you handle challenges and stress with calm and perspective. Ask your teen what she does to care for her mental health, keep stress at bay, and process difficult feelings. Share additional strategies.
3. Provide tools.
When feelings of anxiety and depression creep in, your teen will need a variety of outlets to process and move through those feelings. Tools can include a journal, a calming exercise routine, meditation, a favorite feel-good activity, talking with a trusted friend, joining a support group, or getting one-on-one support from a life coach.
4. Remind her of her power.
Heavy feelings associated with poor mental outlook can be so overwhelming that teens often lose their sense of control. Remind your teen of her power, specifically the power she has to make choices that can influence or change a situation. For example, if a situation with a friend is creating anxiety, ask her “What choices do you have?” or “What can you do that might change this situation?” If she is unable to think of anything, point out actions she can take.
5. Encourage balance.
Maintaining a balanced, healthy lifestyle is one of the most effective ways to improve mental health. This goes beyond eating well and exercising. It includes a balanced schedule, with plenty of time for self-care and relaxation, healthy relationships, quality sleep, and moderate exposure to social media. One of the most effective ways to encourage balance is (as always) to model it. You can also talk with your teen about balance, ask her where she feels out of balance, and what changes she may want to make.
There are many ways parents can monitor their teen’s mental health, but it’s not always easy and it is not something you have to do alone. Creating a support system for yourself is as important as creating one for your teen. Talking with a parent coach can help you gain a clearer perspective and teach you new approaches for supporting your teen. When you seek help, you model courage and show her how she can do the same.
If you are noticing significant changes in your teen’s behavior or mood, seek a professional opinion. Mental health concerns should be taken seriously.