Navigating the teenage years can be a challenging time for both teens and parents. With the added stressors of social media, peer pressure, and academic responsibilities, it’s not uncommon for teens to experience mental health struggles such as anxiety or depression. However, despite the prevalence of these issues, many parents find it difficult to have open and honest conversations with their teens about mental health. Let’s talk about some practical tips and strategies for talking to teens so that we can support them in maintaining their emotional well-being and building resilience for the future.
First and foremost, take the time to educate yourself about mental health issues, common struggles faced by teenagers, and available resources. This will enable you to speak from a place of knowledge and understanding. You will be better equipped to identify potential signs or symptoms of mental health issues and you will feel more empowered to dispel common misconceptions and stigmas, which are important to discuss with your teen. Your goal should be to normalize mental health conversations and create a supportive and empathetic environment where teenagers feel understood, validated, and more likely to seek help when needed.
Once you feel confident with basic understanding about mental health, choose the right timing to talk about it with your teenager. Find a moment when both of you are relaxed and have privacy. Avoid initiating heavy conversations during tense or stressful situations. During the discussion, use open-ended questions to encourage your teen to express their thoughts and feelings.
Here are some examples of questions you can use:
- How have you been feeling lately?
- Can you describe what it’s like for you when you’re feeling down/anxious/overwhelmed?
- What are some things that have been on your mind recently?
- How do you think your emotions are impacting your daily life?
- Can you tell me more about what triggers your stress/anxiety?
- In what ways do you think we can support you better during challenging times?
- How would you describe your support system? Is there anything you feel is missing or could be improved?
- What are some things you do to take care of your mental well-being?
- How do you think social media influences your emotions and self-esteem?
- What are some activities or hobbies that help you feel more balanced and at ease?
Remember, the goal of using open-ended questions is to encourage meaningful conversation and allow your teenager to express themselves openly. Listen attentively and show genuine interest in their responses to foster a deeper connection and understanding. Emphasize that you are there to listen and support them. Give your undivided attention, maintain eye contact, and validate their emotions. Avoid interrupting or immediately offering solutions. Sometimes teens simply need someone to listen and normalize their experiences.
Sharing your own experiences when talking to your teens about mental health can also be helpful because it can help teens feel less alone. When they hear that someone they trust, such as a parent or loved one, has faced similar challenges or emotions, it validates their own experiences and reassures them that what they’re going through is not abnormal or shameful. Sharing some of your own stories can also create a sense of empathy and connection. If you’ve dealt with similar challenges, discussing how you navigated through them or sharing the resources and techniques that helped you can offer valuable guidance to teen. It shows them that there are practical steps they can take, and it encourages them to explore options for improving their self-care. However, it’s important to strike a balance when sharing personal experiences. Ensure that the focus remains on your teen’s feelings and experiences rather than diverting the conversation solely to your own story. The goal is to create a supportive and empathetic space where both parties feel comfortable expressing themselves and finding common ground.
Most importantly, let your teen know that professional help is available. Normalize the idea that therapy can provide a safe and confidential space for them to express their emotions, gain coping strategies, and work through challenges. If your teenager is interested in therapy, involve them in the process of finding a therapist. Research together and explore different options based on their specific needs and preferences. Consider factors such as telehealth vs. face-to-face therapy, specializations, and therapy approach. Encourage them to be part of the decision-making process, as their comfort and trust in the therapist is crucial.
Remember, building a strong foundation for conversations about mental health requires patience, empathy, and ongoing effort. By engaging in open and honest dialogue, you can foster a healthier and more supportive relationship with your teenager. Providing appropriate resources and guidance further equips teens to navigate their mental well-being and seek professional help when needed. Through these strategies, you can contribute to a generation that is more aware, informed, and equipped to manage their mental health effectively. We want all parents and teenagers to feel empowered to break down stigmas, cultivate emotional wellness, and build stronger relationships grounded in trust, support, and genuine care. If we as a community collectively do this together, we will be making progress toward a healthier, happier planet. That’s our goal.
Written by Lauren Presutti