Teen mental health
Educational Advice

Teen mental health – a guide for parents

· May 10, 2023

Your child’s teenage years are exciting, but they can be tricky too. They go through big hormonal changes and their brains are still developing – add to that academic and social pressures and there are bound to be challenging moments. 

Sadly, mental health issues are affecting more young people than ever. Around 14% of 10-19-year-olds experience mental health conditions like anxiety, OCD and depression, according to the World Health Organisation

The tough fact is that many of these issues aren’t recognised or treated, and waiting times for mental health support and counselling are at their highest.

The good news is there are tools you can turn to and actions you can take to support your child with their mental health. 

mother-and-teenage-daughter-talking
It’s great to keep the lines of communication open with teens

Here, we dig into some of the biggest mental health issues for teens and what you can to do help as a parent.

How do you know if your teen might be struggling?

It’s normal for your teen to experience mood swings and feel down from time to time. This is down to their changing hormones and bodies. 

But, it can be difficult for parents to tell whether their child is just ‘being a teenager’ or there’s something else going on.

Here are some key signs that your teen might be experiencing a mental health issue like depression or anxiety:

  • Continuous low mood or frequent tearfulness
  • Feeling irritable or intolerant of others
  • Losing interest in their hobbies or other favourite activities
  • Isolating themselves
  • Dramatic changes in behaviour

If you’re worried about your teen, check in with them and ask them how they’re feeling.

If you think they might need extra support or professional help, find out if they can see a school counsellor. You can also talk to a GP, who can refer your teen for specialist support if needed.

Anxiety at school

After so much disruption to school education over the last few years, your teen might be feeling anxious or worried about learning gaps or tricky topics. 

Exam stress can also cause teens to feel overwhelmed, which can lead to burnout. You can read more about the signs of burnout here.

Here are our expert tips for helping your teen feel calm, confident and in control:

1. Help to build their self-confidence

“Low self-esteem can be extremely damaging long-term,” says Psychologist Dr Kate Jenkins. “If children develop core beliefs such as ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘what’s the point of trying?’ this can lead to significant problems in the future.”

Open up the conversation here. Ask your teen how they feel about themselves and what might help them build their confidence – from learning new skills to helping them conquer performance anxiety. 

Remind them that you’re proud of them no matter what, and praise them for the big or little things they do well. Check out our guide to helping your teen believe in themselves.

2. Identify any particular areas they’re struggling in

If your teen is behind in any subjects or they’re finding particular topics difficult, this can damage their confidence. 

Start by identifying where it is they’re struggling. Have an open conversation with your teen about this and you can also speak to their teachers.

Together, you can find specific ways to tackle it. You might want to try after-school clubs or get extra support from the school. A one-to-one tutor can also offer your teen extra support. 

3. Explore some tools to de-stress

If they feel anxious when they sit down to do homework or revision, then try some mindful activities like deep breathing or playing calming music to help get them in the right headspace.

If organisation is an issue, help them create realistic to-do lists or revision timetables – breaking down bigger tasks can make schoolwork seem less daunting. You could also encourage them to explore how they like to learn.

4. Create a study-friendly environment at home

If they have a desk space in a quiet corner of the house, it’ll make it easier for them to sit down and study when they need to. Read our guide to creating a great study set-up at home.

5. Find time for fun

Even when exam season begins, encouraging your teen to enjoy their downtime will help them feel more relaxed. Teens need to have a sense of independence – if you put too much pressure on them to study, they can often rebel. Think gentle encouragement, rather than nagging.

illustration-mother-and-son

Peer pressure and cyberbullying

Another big issue for teens today is negative peer pressure and online bullying. Over half of 12-15-year-olds have faced some kind of bullying, including cyberbullying over the last year. 

There are some key signs that your child might be being bullied. These might include belongings getting lost or damaged, being afraid to go to school or being nervous or withdrawn. The NSPCC have helpful resources on spotting more of the signs.

Here’s how to open up the conversation around bullying and cyberbullying:

1. Let them know you’re here to talk

If they feel they can tell you things then it’s much easier to find the source of any problems and support teen mental health.

2. Ask them how they feel

When they’re socialising online they might be feeling anxious, angry, scared or worried. If this is the case, see if they can open up about the root of these feelings. 

Talking about it and how to identify these feelings can help them to take control and manage their engagement on social platforms.

3. Ask them what they think is normal behaviour online

They might not realise that some behaviour is harmful, or that they shouldn’t be made to feel certain ways.

If what they’re seeing online is hurting their mental health, then you can help them change what they see. This guide from YoungMinds is directed at teens to help them adjust their social media feeds and tech use.

4. Work together to find a screen time balance

As well as what they see online, reducing the amount of time your teen spends in front of a screen each day can also have a positive impact. Read out guide to finding a healthy screen time balance.

5. Learn more about online safety

Talk to your teen about cyberbullying and get clued up around online safety. The biggest social media platforms offer safety guidelines and you can adjust privacy settings easily.

Body image and self-esteem

As teens’ bodies change and grow, they might feel awkward, self-conscious or insecure about how they look. 

In the age of Instagram influencers and filtered selfies, it’s increasingly common for teens to feel negatively about their appearance.

Use these simple tips to start the conversation and get them thinking more about body image:

1. Encourage them to curate their feed

Suggest that your teen consciously updates their social feed and only follows friends and influencers who make them feel good. 

This will help them develop a more resilient approach to social media and their mental health.

2. Have conversations about filters, airbrushing and unrealistic effects

It’s basically impossible to keep track of all the filters available on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok now.

Encourage your teen to read up on the effects being used and highlight that if an image looks to good to be real, it probably is.

3. Introduce them to the idea of body neutrality

For lots of people, the idea of ‘loving’ their body can be too much. If your teen is struggling with self-esteem, talk to them about the idea of body neutrality.

It can be more helpful for them to just think neutrally about their body, and be grateful for the things it can help them do – like hugging their friends or exploring nature.

How to look after your own mental health

Parenting can be stressful, especially if you’re worried about your child. In the end, you’ll be in the best place to help them if you also take care of yourself. 

This includes your mental health as well as your physical health. 

Here are three quick takeaways to help you:

1. Don’t struggle alone

If things are getting too much, it’s important to recognise this. Talk to someone you trust and get their perspective. Many people go on struggling with very difficult situations because they feel they should be able to cope and don’t deserve any help.

2. Take time for yourself

Although it can be tricky as a busy parent, try to find just 20 minutes of ‘me time’ each day. Take a bath, do some exercise or read. Rather than feeling guilty for taking time out, remember that this can help you feel calmer and more able to help everyone else.

3. Don’t be too hard on yourself

If your child is struggling, try not to blame yourself. Although it can be upsetting and worrying, this doesn’t make you a bad parent. 

Teens often take it out on those closest to them, so you might be feeling the effect of their overwhelming emotions.

Other helpful teen mental health resources

It can be helpful to do your own research and read up about specific topics or issues that relate to your teen. 

From us:

How to support your teen’s mental health with Dr Louise Egan

How to ease exam stress

The Screen Time Diet – helping your teen find balance

6 mindful activities that can help ease stress and anxiety

From elsewhere:

Government advice on youth mental health

YoungMinds advice for parents

Mind’s advice for parents

If you think your teen may benefit from the support of a tutor (who can also act as a helpful mentor), search our 1-1 tutors here.

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