The last few years have been incredibly disruptive for teenagers and their families. The impact the pandemic has had on our teens has been tremendous! From changing how they view school, their social dynamics, and their relationships with family and friends.
It may be a shock to realize that the isolation and disruption our children experienced during COVID-19 are still affecting them today. The after-effects are pervasive and show no sign of getting better anytime soon.
Teens’ mental health is worse today than ever, and the trend should worry parents everywhere. Our teens continue to struggle with depression, isolation, and anxiety. The suicide rates among our youth are higher than ever.
Even the Surgeon General has declared a youth mental health crisis in this country. It is now more critical than ever for parents to be empathetic, open-minded, and alert. We must understand and recognize when our children, especially our teens, show signs of stress and anxiety.
In this blog post, I will discuss how we as parents must be aware of today’s trends and be there and ready to lend loving support when our teenagers need it most!
How to Recognize the Signs of Stress and Anxiety in Teens
Some common indicators may show that your teen needs mental health help.
- Mood swings: Does your teen seem easily irritated, restless, or stressed with little provocation? Do they experience sudden outbursts of anger?
- Changes in sleep patterns: Is your teen having trouble sleeping, experiencing insomnia, or sleeping too much?
- Changes in appetite: Is your teen eating too much or too little?
- Difficulty concentrating: Is your teen having difficulty focusing, paying attention, or seems more forgetful than usual?
- Physical symptoms: Does your teen complain of headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension, body aches, or fatigue?
- Excessive worry or fear: Does your teen have panic attacks or frequently verbalize fears or worries? Do they display repeated obsessive behaviors?
- Self-criticism: Does your teen feel like they are not good enough, judge themselves harshly, or are overly critical?
- Avoidance behaviors: Does your teen avoid things they used to enjoy, like playing sports or spending time with friends? Are they reluctant to attend school or engage in hobbies they used to enjoy?
- Sudden changes in behavior: Is your teen withdrawing from family and friends, seeming isolated or withdrawn? Are they engaging in self-harm or risky behaviors?
Recognizing the signs of stress and anxiety in your teenager is the first step in helping them with their mental health needs. If you notice any of the behaviors listed above, it is crucial to take action and speak to a mental health professional or counselor. They can provide guidance on how to support your teen best.
If you are the parent of a teen who has already received mental health treatment but is concerned that they are not improving, it is time to explore more aggressive measures. Helping your teenage child find the path to recovery should be your next step. Options like a wilderness therapeutic program, therapeutic boarding school, or residential treatment are often the next intervention for a teen that is not improving.
If you need help getting them the proper support, I advise you to contact a mental health professional soon; make sure you connect with a therapist specializing in working with teens. They will be able to guide you as you navigate this challenging time.
If your child needs further intervention but is unclear on the next steps, schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss your specific situation. Keep in mind that you do not need to go through this alone. Help is available for you and your teen.
Creating a Safe Space for Mental Health Conversations with Your Teen: Tips for Parents
1. Active listening and building trust.
How can you get there? Take the necessary time to listen attentively. Show genuine curiosity about your child’s concerns. By doing so, you encourage trust and openness. Be careful to respect boundaries. And ask appropriate questions but do not pry on personal details they may not be ready to share. Offer reassurance and mean it. They should be comfortable speaking openly without facing any repercussions.
2. Reduce stressors.
There are several ways to help your teen cope when they are experiencing loneliness and anxiety. One way is to help them reduce stressors by working with them to adjust their schedule to allow for more free time. Another way to help is to reduce their workload and help them learn about time management. Adopting coping skills such as journaling, meditation, deep breathing, exercises, and creative hobbies are very beneficial.
3. Offer reassurance and validate their concerns.
Many parents I work with tell me that at the beginning, they didn’t realize their child was struggling. We tend to think that new behaviors, positive or not, relate to puberty and adolescence. We tend to dismiss some of their complaints or feelings or think they will outgrow them.
Reassuring our teens is hard when we don’t understand what they are experiencing or feeling. However, it is crucial to validate their concerns and support them when they express their feelings.
4. Be a resource and not a hindrance.
As a parent, you want to help your teen, but often it’s easy to add to your teen’s stress instead of reducing it. For example, many of us assume that the busier they are, the less time they’ll have to dwell on negative emotions or thoughts that lead to burnout or increased anxiety.
If you subscribe to these beliefs, you are not helping your child deal with their mental health concerns. In fact, you may be making it worse.
5. Don’t procrastinate.
Let’s face it. No one wants to make tough decisions. But procrastinating or deferring tough decisions until “tomorrow” will worsen the situation and increase your teen’s risk. It’s vital to take a proactive approach when we realize something is wrong.
If treatment is recommended, then prioritize the decision, don’t wait until after the holidays, the school break, or the next report card. Wait-and-see attitudes will always fail you.
Advocate for your child and promptly make the necessary treatment decisions, even when they may be uncomfortable or challenging. Dealing with the situation head-on is not easy, but it is the only way to prevent minor issues from becoming more significant problems in the long run.
By implementing the tips mentioned above, you can help your teen feel validated, supported, and help equip them with coping skills to manage their loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
Remember, you do not have to go through this alone; resources are available to help parents like you and your family. Building strong communication with your teenager takes time, patience, and empathy. For some of us, it may take additional education or support.
Creating a safe environment where your child can freely express themselves without fear of judgment or criticism is crucial for you both. Listen attentively without interrupting or offering solutions. Be a good example by taking care of yourself. Educating yourself and empathizing with your teen’s struggles is integral to the healing process.