On World Teen Mental Wellness Day, we’re reflecting on the challenges that parents and teens have had to deal with over the past two years, in addition to the issues teens normally face, from high expectations and pressure to social media and relationships. Anyone watching Euphoria will know that teens, like adults, grapple with depression, anxiety, trauma, and addiction. In fact, according to the Adolescent Wellness Academy, 1 in 5 teens suffers from at least one mental health condition, and 9 out of 10 people with an addiction began using before the age of 18.
Here are five tips to help parents become more emotionally available and supportive to their teens, whether or not there’s a pandemic going on.
- Validate first – If your teen is coming to you with something, the most important way to engage is by validating. Validation is a crucial communication tool for building trust and safety. You don’t have to agree with the content – WHAT happened, HOW your teen is responding, etc. – but validating the feelings they are sharing shows that you are listening without judgment, which will encourage your teen to keep putting words to their emotions and continue to come to you. Saying something like “that sounds really frustrating,” “I can tell you’re feeling angry about this,” or “that must have been tough” before launching into any kind of problem-solving conversation will make teens (and anyone, really!) feel understood, seen, and heard.
- Don’t fear feelings – One of the most common difficulties for parents is the inability to manage their own emotions while their teen is experiencing something difficult. But teens will have heavy and difficult feelings. If your child is experiencing anxiety, it might make you feel anxious, but that does not necessarily mean you have to jump in to “solve it.” By reacting anxiously to your child’s anxiety, you risk overwhelming them and you teach them inadvertently that emotions are to be feared, avoided, or removed. Not only that, they might pick up on the need to “fix” a feeling. But here’s the thing: feelings are not for fixing. They are for feeling. Learn to manage your own emotional response in the moment, and allow room for your teen’s. You are role modeling to them what it could look like to process through an uncomfortable feeling and to have the agency to respond with intention vs. react.
- Be open to feedback – Your teen is a different person than you are. Some things that worked for you will not work for them, and vice versa. It is important to identify times you are feeling defensive, and instead approach the situation with compassion and curiosity. If your teen is willing to tell you that something you said was hurtful or unfair, they trust you enough to be vulnerable. Accept that gift, validate the feeling, and get curious (see step 4) about how they’d like to move forward, within reason, while still affirming your role as the parent (just because they don’t like curfew doesn’t mean there won’t be a curfew, but it’s ok that they have feelings about it).
- Get curious – Teens don’t always like when parents ask questions, but the right open-ended questions can show that you are interested in their lives. We aren’t encouraging you to invade their privacy or micro-manage, but instead get curious about how an experience was for your teen. Try asking questions like: “What was that like?” “How did that feel?” “What happened next?” “What do you think about that?” “What do you think would be helpful here?” These can help teens practice critical thinking, foster better connection between parent and child, and might give you more insight into their thoughts and feelings about a given situation.
- Don’t punish behavior you want to see – This sounds intuitive, but something I’ve seen come up often is parents responding to their teen’s “good” behavior with disdain (a feeling that has usually been leftover or lingering from before). It’s incredibly important not to use sarcasm or snark to express that you are happy with something. For example: If your teen does the dishes after a week of being nagged, saying, “WOW, FINALLY” might not get you the result you are looking for. It’s much more helpful to provide appreciation and encouragement, saying something like, “I noticed you did the dishes! Thank you so much, they were stressing me out!” If you lead with passive aggression after your teen does something well, they might resent not being acknowledged or even take it as scolding, and they may then be far less likely to want to engage in those activities or chores again. There is nothing more demotivating than realizing that success and failure are both punished.
These tips are meant to aid in building a more trusting, honest, and open relationship, and should not be considered as mental health treatment or used in place of necessary clinical support. If your teen is in crisis, please see the resources below.
Find a Therapist:
Emergency/Crisis Phone numbers:
- Emergency: 911
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- Crisis Text Line: Text “DESERVE” TO 741-741
- TREVOR LGBTQ Crisis Hotline: 1-866-488-7386