Parenting teens can feel like a rollercoaster with one challenge after the next. Your teen is going through one of the potentially toughest times in their lives, at an age when they are not yet fully developed to cope with these challenges. At MyTutor, we are delighted to welcome our guest blogger–Clinical Psychologist Dr Louise Egan. Below she gives her 9 top tips on how to support your child’s mental health through the Spring term.
9 top tips to support your teen’s mental health this term
- Nurture positive self esteem
- Regulate, relate then reason
- Make time to talk
- Guide rather than control
- Help them grow in their independence
- Help them make good choices with screen time
- If you need to, get professional help
- Make time for fun
- Hang in there
1. Nurture positive self esteem
Adolescence is a time when teens are developing their own identity. It’s also a time when acceptance and belonging to their peer group becomes especially important. Find ways to let them know their positive place in your family. Tell them all the positive things that they do that make you feel proud. Specific positive praise has been proven to help build self-esteem and encourage positive behaviour. Self-esteem is a fundamental cornerstone to positive emotional and social wellbeing as well as learning. Low self-esteem has been linked to negative outcomes such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, poor social functioning, school drop-out and high-risk behaviour.
2. Regulate, relate then reason
Teens often worry about not fitting in, looking right, having friends, and doing well in their studies. When they’re distressed, try role modelling ways they can soothe themselves. This will help them to positively relate to themselves and others. You can lead the way by sharing with your child the links between your thoughts, feelings, behaviours and your reasoning out aloud when you are stressed. The Three R’s technique is a useful resource to bear in mind when responding to your teen’s distress, it will also help them learn what to do first when most distressed. Modelling healthy coping techniques is helpful to your teen, as children are heavily influenced by the experiences and people around them.
Understanding and caring for ourselves is also a lifelong process. Teens are at the beginning of this journey, they’ll need your help to learn. For some, using grounding, soothing rhythmic breathing, relaxation, mindfulness, positive visual imagery, journaling and music helps settle their senses and emotions. Remember your teen’s individual needs and tailor your advice and guidance- there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
3. Make time to talk
Open up regular time to talk about what’s important to your teen and learn how they feel. Look for small opportunities in the day to keep conversations going. Their wellbeing is influenced by how others around them understand and respond to their thoughts and feelings. You’re the best person to be there for your teen as they navigate these tricky adolescent years. Keep an open, engaged, compassionate and responsive approach as much as you can. Listen to them by acknowledging their thoughts and feelings with appropriate acceptance. Be curious and empathic and just try your best – it’s all you can do!
If a regular channel of communication is there for everyday stuff, this might make it easier for them to share when bigger difficulties come up. Dedicating time to your teen will also show them that you care. You’ve heard the saying, “A problem shared is a problem halved”? Well, sometimes regularly sharing our struggles releases the emotional pressure in a proactive, helpful way and can stop problems from building up and exploding out.
4. Guide rather than control
As much as you can, try to lead by example with your teen’s behaviour, rather than trying to control what they do. Our brains are still developing in our twenties and thirties! We often expect our teens to be more capable than their brain is capable of. The prefrontal cortex which is responsible for planning, thinking logically, moderating behaviour, self-awareness, the ability to take the perspective of another and social interaction is the last part of the brain to develop. It’s also going through major transformation during adolescence just as your teens’s life get more socially, emotionally, behaviourally, sexually, spiritually and developmentally complex.
With all the risks and dangers out there in the world, It’s understandable that parents can worry and react by controlling, laying down the law, serving punishments or putting restrictions in place. You might even give in to their nagging just to preserve your sanity and family life (it’s understandable!). But the problem is that controlling can lead to resistance, rebellion and even resentment. Try to respectfully describe to your teen the issue at hand, and how you feel about it. Hold off from critical comments as teenagers tend to be sensitive to disapproval and tune out. Ask for their point of view on the issue and invite your teen to problem solve with you. State 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. Being playful and even using humour can lighten the mood and make them more likely to cooperate.
5. Help them grow in their independence
Naturally, teens should be navigating the psychosocial challenges of appropriate independence from you, identifying more with their peers and engaging in exploratory behaviours. Encourage healthy independence, peer relationships and exploration. You can do this by setting up opportunities for them to explore situations that are less risky and problematic e.g. agree to let them have that funky hairstyle, rather than giving in to their request for alcohol!
6. Help them make good choices with screen time
Self-consciousness about appearance is a big thing for teenagers, and as you probably know, social media and some TV shows can play a big part in this. You can help them develop a healthier relationship with themselves and their screen time by talking about the unhelpful messages portrayed in the media. Watching appropriate TV programmes, documentaries and films, listening to music and chatting about articles or podcasts on the subject can all help them think more critically about what they see online and on TV. For more info on how social media can cause distress in teens, and how you can help positively shape their screen time, check out MyTutor’s blog The Screen Time Diet.
7. If you need to, get professional help
Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether a teen’s distress is just them being a teen, or something more serious. It might be time to find professional help when emotional difficulties are…
- Happening for most of the day, more days than not, over an extended period of time
- Having a significant negative impact on your teen’s engagement in family and social life, as well as their education
- Putting them or others at risk
If any of these sound familiar, it can be a good idea to get a referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) or Adult Mental Health Services via your GP or relevant professional (you might be able to self-refer). There are also independent psychological companies and online mental health platforms delivering psychological support for teens, such as Kooth. The NHS also has a library of mental health apps especially for teens, with a whole load of different solutions depending on what they need help with. If it’s academic worries that are getting them down, a mentor-tutor can also work to boost their confidence and make them feel less alone with tricky subjects.
8. Make time for fun
Being playful is an important parenting skill. Strengthening your connection by spending regular ‘fun time’ together will provide that secure base which your teen can return to in a difficult time, when a problem comes up. Children with a probable mental disorder were five times more likely not to have eaten a family meal all week (4.8%), and not to have spent time together with their family (6.0%) than those unlikely to have a mental disorder (0.9% and 1.0%, respectively) NHS Digital. Fun activities also help your teen relax and lead a balanced life. Why not try a film Friday night together at home with some treats? Does your teen have a hobby that you could join them in (if they’ll allow you)? It doesn’t hurt to ask them!
9. Hang in there
Though adolescence can be a challenging stage, the adaptive nature of the teenage brain means there are more opportunities for fun, creativity, curious exploration and learning. Your teen is developing into their own person, putting their unique stamp on the world around them–and that is something to celebrate.
A big thank you to Dr Louise for all her advice and insights into the teenage mind! We hope they’ll make the coming weeks and months a bit easier for you and your family.