Pimples. Hormonal changes. Emotional extremes. Argumentativeness. Romantic relationships. If you have an adolescent son or daughter, you may be living through these and other aspects of the teen years. It's a period of great upheaval, for kids and parents (not to mention the teachers who never escape the drama of middle and high school).
Adolescence has always been hard, but today's teens are having an especially difficult time. For a variety of reasons, teens are suffering from higher rates of stress, anxiety, and depression than ever before. Consider this statistic:
- 17% of high school students seriously consider suicide (22.4% of girls)
That's unbelievable! Unfortunately, the trend continues into the college years:
- 54% of college students have extreme anxiety
- 30% of college students suffer from severe depression
As parents, there are some strategies we can employ to help our teenage children endure this rough patch and emerge stronger in young adulthood. We can practice these "protective factors" at home to boost our kids' emotional immune systems.
Below are five ways to make teens happier and to promote long-term positive mental health.
1. Have a consistent home or family routine. I know how tough this can be. My wife and I have four kids, and managing their sports schedules and social calendars seems harder than running a federal agency. If possible, try to have at least one family meal per week. You could also plan a family game night once a month and make it clear that nothing will take priority over it.
2. Promote healthy habits. Our physical health impacts our emotional health. Encourage plenty of exercise and a healthy diet. Sleep is often sacrificed due to homework and hanging out with friends, but it is an essential aspect of sound mental health. Do all you can to help your teen get at least eight or nine hours of sleep every night.
3. Practice spirituality. Teens are trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into the world. Spirituality offers emotional support and guidance, in addition to a sense of purpose. If your family actively practices religion, help your teen grow in the faith by attending services on a regular basis. Getting involved with your religious community's youth group strengthens social bonds and creates shared experiences that can sustain your teen in difficult times.
4. Boost confidence. Many teens suffer from negative self-esteem. This may result from poor body image, stressful social interactions, or feeling inadequate in some way. You can help your teen feel more confident by celebrating his or her victories, large and small. Show your teen that effort leads to results, and that he or she has to power to achieve success in a variety of areas. For more ideas, you can check out my blog post on ways to develop a growth mindset in your child.
5. Know what's going on. Monitor your teen's activities, both in the "real world" and online. Take a peek every now and then at your son or daughter's social media profiles. Invite your teen's friends to your house to hang out. Stay in touch with how your child is doing at school and beyond. Often, troubling emotional situations can be avoided by proactive and positive parenting.
Hang in there, parents of teens! It's a wild and unpredictable ride, but it will be over before you know it. Your child will grow up and leave the nest (hopefully) with the tools needed for academic and personal success. With a great deal of patience and care, we can get our teens on track for stronger mental health in the present and down the road.