Blogger | Teacher
The teenage years can be a difficult time for your child, and between the tumultuous struggles of puberty, school, relationships, and self-discovery, teenagers can experience a wide range of mental health issues as they grow older. Whether they always want to admit it or not, they are going to need your help and guidance now more than ever. As the month of May is Teen Mental Health Awareness month, we decided to compile a list of ways you can help improve your teen’s mental health in order to help them navigate these difficult struggles.
Ask the Simple Two-Part Question
Whether you’re a child, teen, or adult struggling with mental health issues, needing someone to lean onto never changes. We all need help sometimes, but we don’t always know where to turn. Plus, no two people cope with mental health struggles quite the same way, so it can be difficult to find someone who not only understands what we need but is also willing and able to play that role in our lives. Honestly, sometimes we don’t even really know what it is we need, so having someone put our thoughts into words for us can be a great step in the right direction.
Here’s the thing: you can’t read your child’s mind. You can’t always know what it is they need all the time, and some days they need so many conflicting things that it can be hard to know what the best way to help is. During my life, I have met many wonderful people who have struggled with mental health issues, and trying to figure out how to help each person individually could be quite challenging when I didn’t know what it was they wanted from me.
So, in order to help both myself and my loved ones, I started asking a simple two-part question: “Do you need my advice, or do you just need me to listen?” Sometimes people will come to you in search of answers they can’t find by themselves, but sometimes they just need to let go of their anxieties and worries without interference and just want to know someone cares enough to listen. Asking this question can be a great way to get them to think about how they want the conversation to go, and it can help you better understand your role.
Obviously, some problems will require more than a simple two-part question, and so this step will need to be modified as you and your teen move forward through life. But this can be a great jumping-off point for starting the conversation.
Listen with Your Role in Mind
Another way you can help improve your teen’s mental health issues is simply by listening to their problems with your new role in mind. If they just need to let go of the anxiety they’ve been bottling up, then let them explode all those unhelpful and overwhelming emotions in a safe space. Listen closely and let them know that you’re there. Offer a hug if they’re the hugging type. But just listen to the things they need to say.
If your role is to listen and offer guidance, then let them say everything they need to while making a mental tally of your thoughts and advice. Then, once they’ve let out all that steam and are in a place where they can listen to your sage wisdom, offer your guidance in a way that answers their problems the best that you can. You may not know what to do 100% of the time, but knowing that there’s someone on your team who is willing to help you can be such a relief to someone struggling with their mental health.
Ask Relevant Questions
While you don’t want to interrupt their release process, it’s also important to ask relevant questions concerning their problems and mental health issues so that you can better understand the underlying cogs at work. Questions like “And why did that upset you / make you anxious” or “And what can you do now to help change your situation” can be great ways to get your teen thinking about the ways their mental health may be affecting their overall problems.
Sometimes life is just hard – that’s a given. But chronic mental health issues can also elevate and exaggerate situations that would be minor otherwise, and these problems going unrecognized or untreated can cause even bigger problems down the road. For example, sometimes we get overwhelmed and busy, and that’s just life. But as someone who has a history of anxiety, I have to be aware of when life is busy, and when I have let my anxiety become too big for me to control. If I let my anxiety run free, it can make it difficult to find motivation, complete tasks, or even get out of bed.
Make sure that when you are listening, you are also helping your teen better understand all the problems that may be at play in their current situations so that they can learn how to better recognize and control these emotions in the future.
Do Your Research
Your teen may not always understand everything about their mental health as they are still learning and growing. However, it’s important that you do all the research necessary to be able to answer any of their questions should they need you. You won’t be able to help all the time with everything – sometimes even parents need a little extra assistance. But the more you know, the more helpful you can be to them in the future.
The more you understand what all contributes to and affects mental health issues, as well as coping mechanisms to help control mental health issues when possible, the better suited you will be to handle these tough situations. And the more informed you are, the more informed your teen will be.
Suggest a Counselor
Sometimes your teen will come to you with mental health issues or questions that you just can’t answer, and that’s completely alright. We can’t all be trained in psychology and clinical therapy. However, having a relevant counselor on hand can be a great tool in your toolbox, and a great way for your teen to ask all the questions you can’t help with.
There are counselors trained in all sorts of mental health illnesses, from just general anxiety and depression to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
There are also counselors who specialize in specific areas, like LGBTQ and sexuality, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and bullying. Anything your teen may have questions about or may need guidance with, there’s a counselor for that.
Don’t be afraid to suggest seeking help from trained professionals and encouraging them to see a counselor regularly. It’s not something they should feel weak or ashamed about – sometimes we just need different tools. And counselors can be the best tool for helping with your teen’s mental health.
Check Back In
One absolutely key way to help improve your teen’s mental health is to check back in. Just check back in every once in a while to follow up with them about how their feeling, how their specific problems are going, whether they had any other questions. As much as we would love for all problems to be solved the first time, issues concerning mental health can be reoccurring and long term, and knowing that there’s someone who cares enough to ask how we’re doing can be extremely beneficial to anyone’s mental health.
It’s always nice to be reminded that we’re not alone, so checking back in with your teen can be a great way to say, “Hey, I’m here if you need me, we’re still a team.” It doesn’t have to be a weekly thing – honestly, weekly checking could become a bit suffocating for more reserved teens – but whenever you feel like it’s necessary or you just want to check in, just ask a simple, “Everything going okay with that problem from last time? How are you feeling about it?” Trust me, a simple check-in can do wonders for your mental health.
Do you have any tips or suggestions for helping improve your teen’s mental health? Tell us in the comments!
About Draven Jackson
Draven is an avid writer and reader who enjoys sharing her opinions on movies, books, and music with the rest of the world. She will soon be working as a teacher in Japan and hopes to use her experience to connect with other teachers and students around the globe. Draven spends most of her time at home with her family, her dogs, and her ferret.
To see more, view all posts by Draven Jackson here.