Tips on how to look after your teen’s mental health
Looking after teenager’s mental wellbeing will help them to feel secure and develop social relationships, find their place in the world and building resilience to develop coping mechanisms that will stand to them for the rest of their life.
It has been shown that many mental health issues that we might face during adulthood originate in our teenage years. This was confirmed by a study carried out by Headstrong and the School of Psychology in UCD which found that almost one in three young people experienced some form of mental health difficulties which originated during early teens and peaked during late teens and early twenties. Teenagers experience a range of challenges such as peer pressure, exam performance pressure, finding and coping with sexual identity and bullying to name just a few examples that can have adverse effects on their mental health and wellbeing.
On the upside, it has been found that teens are able to cope with anxiety, depression and other forms of mental distress that are appropriate to their developmental stage and given the right support will not necessarily endure. Parental support can help their teenagers learn vital coping mechanisms and help them deal with mental health issues in the following ways:
Food and mood connection
It has long been established that the food we eat has an effect on our mood. Parents can encourage their child to eat a healthy balanced diet. A good way of doing that is by leading by example and by keeping healthy snacks in the house. Processed foods and sugary drinks create sugar crashes which lead to low moods and also don’t provide the necessary nutrients for healthy development.
Sleep and rest
Teenagers have by biological design a different sleeping pattern to adults. This explains why they stay up late and want to sleep longer in the morning. Unfortunately, the schools do not consider this, and teens have to cope with not getting enough sleep to cope with their day effectively. In an ideal world, teens need at least 8 hours of sleep a night. Parents can help by collaboratively establish a sleep routine. Discuss this with your child and come up with a routine together. This could be having a bath before bedtime, reading a book, turning off all screens 30 minutes before bedtime, put a few drops of lavender oil on the pillow or write in a journal. Journaling is particularly helpful in helping unwind as it gets the young person’s thoughts out of the head and onto paper. This helps to stop ruminating thoughts that causes teens to lie awake at night and worry about various issues they have on their mind.
Practicing mindfulness is also a very effective way of dealing with stress, anxiety and low mood. There are various apps available that can help your child guide them through the process, for example, “Headspace” and “Calm”.
It’s important that the young person has time to relax, meet with friends and engage in hobbies. The school year can be very stressful, and the focus is often on exams and homework. Encourage your teen to balance his/her school work with fun activities that they can look forward to. This will help to keep their mood lifted and relieve stress that may build up over the week.
Let your child know that talking about mental health issues is normal. A good way is to talk about how you feel yourself. By talking about how you feel will encourage your child also to open up and talk about feeling and at the same time learn that it’s ok to experience painful emotions. Feelings come and go and it’s so important for mental health and wellbeing to be able to identify feelings and not be afraid to experience them.
Many teenagers have low self-esteem and compare themselves to their peers. In particular at a time of social media and the constant stream of images of friends who in their minds look better and have a much more exciting life. You can help your child by focusing on their strengths. You really can’t do enough of this.
As a parent or caregiver, you have the opportunity to help your teenager through a challenging period in their life as they navigate from childhood into adulthood. It is not an easy time for parents and children and parents equally need to take care of their own well-being.
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, speak to your GP about it or get in touch with a Psychotherapist who works with adolescents. Young people respond very well to therapy as they have not had years of ruminating unhelpful thoughts which would have created well established neural connections in the brain. It is also very helpful for a teen to talk to someone outside the family in a place that feels secure and is totally confidential, where they can process issues that are causing them anxiety or depression.
If you would like more information please contact
Psychotherapist & Cognitive Behaviour Therapist for adults and teens