Being a teenager has never been easy. There are more and more pressures to take on adult responsibility, yet life remains full of the limitations and restrictions imposed on children. Schoolwork intensifies, with adults insisting that all future life chances could depend on one set of exams, and school also becomes a hotbed of social competition, which can be tough on those who don’t fit in. On top of all this, the brain is going through a major restructuring process and unfamiliar hormones are playing havoc with the emotions. It’s no wonder that some young people find it hard to cope.
As society opens up more about mental health problems and old taboos are eroded, it’s not surprising that we’re starting to hear more young people talking about the problems they face. However, something else is going on. Clinicians report that teenagers are seeking help in numbers that can’t be explained by this alone. Are there social reasons why they’re struggling? What can you, as a parent, do to help?
The most common mental health problems facing people of all ages are anxiety and depression, and this is just as much the case with young people. Many parents, however, find this difficult to distinguish from ordinary adolescent moodiness. It’s important to listen to teenagers and pay close attention to moods that last for more than two weeks – all teenagers go through unhappy and fearful phases, but they should also go through happier phases. It’s also important to be alert to the particular risks that young people face. Stress associated with bullying is a big issue in this age group, and even if the bullies can be successfully dealt with, more help may be needed to restore confidence and willingness to trust. Then there are eating disorders – most commonly anorexia and bulimia – which can affect boys as well as girls and are often not as much about trying to look thin as they are about trying to take control of one aspect of life when other things feel unmanageable.
The wider world
It’s common for some of these problems to be blamed on social media, and it can have a serious negative impact in some cases. Young people making extensive use of it can find their anxiety levels increased because they’re more aware of bad things happening in the wider world. They understand the economic challenges at home and abroad, and worry about wars and people facing desperate situations. While developing compassion is a good thing, they may not yet understand how to distance themselves as adults do, or realize that they can’t help others unless they take care of themselves. They may also become involved in social groups, which make existing struggles worse, such as pro-anorexia groups where images of extreme weight loss are shared. On the other hand, social media is often the first place where young people identify that they have mental health problems and may need help. The biggest problem with it is that it’s unfamiliar to the older generation. As a parent, you may not have the skills to help your teenager use it wisely.
How parents can help
What you can do as a parent is provide a means of getting practical help when it’s needed. Even if you have a good relationship with your teenager, you may need to be the one to start the conversation about mental health because your teenager may fear that you won’t understand or be uncomfortable about the idea of burdening you.
The first and most important thing that you can do is to show lots of love, patience, and willingness to listen. If more than this is needed, you can talk to your doctor about accessing therapy and look at the options around medication. You could also consider sending your teenager to a place such as Newport Academy, which specializes in providing tailored support to young people facing mental illness and similar issues. In a safe environment where they don’t have to deal with the influence of social media or the pressures of a normal high school environment, they can continue their education among supportive peers. This can be just the break that they need in order to recover and return to society feeling like themselves again.
Facing up to the fact that your child is unwell can be very difficult, but this is a situation in which good parenting can really help to turn things around. Today’s teenagers are facing a lot of pressures, but your support could give them the confidence and courage that they need to cope.