Parenting teens can feel like a rollercoaster sometimes. Just by going to school, your teen is going to come up against some of their toughest challenges. Add to that the pressures and expectations set by the media and the content they engage with on social platforms, it’s no surprise that teen self-confidence is at its lowest.
Thankfully, there are some core things you can do as a parent or guardian to support their mental health and help them to cope with life’s biggest challenges.
Here, we team up with guest blogger and Clinical Psychologist, Dr Louise Egan, who shares 8 ways you can support teen self-esteem and help them look after their mental health throughout their time at school.
8 top tips to support your teen’s mental health this term
- Use praise to nurture positive self-esteem
- Model how you deal with stress to help them cope
- Make time to talk to encourage them to open up
- Try to guide rather than control
- Help them develop independence
- Help them make healthier choices with screen time
- Make time for fun to boost your relationship
- Seek professional help when they need it
1. Use praise to nurture positive teen self-confidence
Adolescence is a time when teens are developing and exploring their own identities. It’s also a time when acceptance and belonging to their peer group becomes especially important.
Helping your teen build self-esteem is key to their emotional and social wellbeing as well as their confidence when learning. Researchers have found that children who are intentionally praised as a reward by their parents are calmer and more attentive. Research also shows that children respond better when you recognise their efforts, rather than just their achievements.
So, find ways to let them know their positive place in your family. When they do things that make you feel proud, let them know.
“Children respond better when you recognise their efforts, rather than just their achievements.”
2. Model how you deal with stress to help them cope
Teens often worry about not fitting in, looking right, having friends, and doing well in their studies. To help them deal with the pressures, try role modelling how you de-stress and cope when times are tough. Children are heavily influenced by the experiences and people around them, so lead the way by sharing how your thoughts, feelings and behaviours are linked when you’re stressed.
The Three R’s Technique is useful for processing stress and building resilience:
Regulate: Help your child to regulate and calm their fight, flight or freeze response when they’re stressed
Relate: Show them that you understand why they might be feeling that way by relating and connecting with them
Reason: Help them to articulate and reflect on their feelings, so they can remember how they dealt with the situation and become more self-assured
If your teen has trouble dealing with stress or has anxiety, you can teach and share some grounding or relaxation techniques. Breathwork, meditation, mindfulness, journaling and music can all help to settle their senses and emotion. Explore what works for them.
3. Make time to talk to encourage them to open up
Dedicate regular time to talk about what’s important to your teen and learn how they feel. Look for natural opportunities in the day to have these conversations. Their wellbeing is influenced by how others around them understand and respond to their thoughts and feelings.
Keep an open, engaged, compassionate and responsive approach as much as you can. Listen to them by acknowledging and validating their thoughts and feelings. Be curious, empathic and just try your best – it’s all you can do!
4. Try to guide rather than control
Try to lead by example with your teen’s behaviour, rather than trying to control what they do. It’s helpful to remember that our brains are still developing in our twenties and thirties. The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to develop and this is responsible for thinking logically, moderating behaviour, self-awareness and the ability to see someone else’s perspective.
It’s understandable that parents worry and react by putting restrictions in place. However, controlling can lead to resistance, rebellion and even resentment. We all like to feel heard and respected, whatever our age. So, by working together to solve an issue, your teen is likely to be more responsive and cooperative.
Try to explain how you feel about certain issues. Hold the critical comments and instead lead with empathy and ask for their point of view. Explain clearly and kindly what you want to see more of, and encourage them to choose from a range of solutions that you’ve come up with together – an option that suits you both.
“Explain clearly and kindly what you want to see more of.”
5. Help them develop independence
Teens will likely learn how to feel confident and act independently from you. They’ll start to explore this early on, so encourage healthy independence where you can. Try to set up opportunities for them to explore their independence in less risky situations – encourage them to spend time away with friends, speak to relatives on the phone and explore their own interests.
6. Help them make healthier choices with screen time
Social media, TV shows and films can play a huge role in your teen’s self-confidence. You can help them develop a healthier relationship with themselves and their screen time by talking about the unhelpful messages portrayed by the media.
Watching appropriate series, documents and films, listening to music and chatting about articles or podcasts on the subject can help them think more critically about what they see online and on TV. Check out MyTutor’s guide to finding more balance when it comes to screen time.
7. Make time for fun to boost your relationship
Being playful is an important parenting skill. Strengthening your connection by spending regular ‘fun time’ together will help them build a secure base that they can come back to during difficult times.
A recent NHS report found that children are more likely to develop mental health problems like anxiety or depression when they don’t spend time together with their family, like eating dinners or going on trips. So, try introducing a regular movie night, or try playing sport or getting crafty together.
“Being playful is an important parenting skill.”
8. Seek professional help when they need it
Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether a teen’s distress comes from the normal pressures or something more serious. It might be time to seek professional help if you notice they’re having emotional difficulties that are:
- Happening more days than not or over an extended period of time
- Having a significant negative impact on their family, social or school life
- Putting themselves or others at risk
Speak to a GP who can refer you to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) or you may be able to self-refer for talking therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
The NHS, Kooth and Mind also offer great mental health resources and support for teens. And if it’s academic worries that are getting them down, a MyTutor tutor can also act as a mentor to help boost their confidence and feel less alone with tricky subjects and exam pressures.
The bottom line
Though the teenage years can be a challenging stage, helping them to focus on all the opportunities for fun, creativity, exploration and learning can make a huge difference to teen self-confidence. Your teen is developing into their own person and putting their unique stamp on the world around them. If you can help them feel less alone and confused by the daily pressures, you’ll make the world a much more enjoyable place for them to be. And that’s no small feat!