The teenage years can be difficult for anyone, but today’s teens are dealing with a unique and unprecedented set of issues. Their entire lives have been saturated by technology and social media, and they’ve had to reimagine many of their defining moments in the wake of the pandemic. In short, our kids are suffering. They have experienced and witnessed more tragedy and uncertainty than many adults are prepared to cope with, before even being able to vote.
As a child and adolescent psychiatrist and a parent of two adolescent children, I empathize with parents of today’s teens. We’re also in uncharted territory. I often worry about what challenges will be in store for my kids, and I know I’m not alone. A recent study revealed four in 10 U.S. parents with children younger than 18 are “extremely worried that their children might struggle with anxiety or depression.”
There’s a silver lining, though. Kids today are more vocal than ever about combating this crisis. They are resilient, and they want to do the work. Now, it’s on us parents to step up and support them. The most important thing we can do is to foster healthy communication with them. While many parents struggle to connect with their children during the teen years, there are ways to make them feel more comfortable talking honestly about their mental health.
It’s OK to not be OK
- We are our kids’ first teachers, and one of the most impactful lessons we can share is that it’s OK to be upset or frustrated.
- Parents can model positive coping mechanisms to help kids navigate and cope with increased stress.
Listen to understand, not to solve
- When our kids vent to us, they are often simply looking to be seen, heard, and understood. Legitimize their experiences without judgment or offering solutions.
- Simple statements like, “Wow, that sounds frustrating,” or “I’m sorry you’re going through this,” could give them the validation they need.
- Ask teens if they are open to suggestions before imposing them.
Establish safe spaces
- Having conversations in places that don’t require much eye contact can decrease the discomfort that might come with these heavy topics.
- A car ride or a hike can be the perfect opportunity to check in with your teen.
Acknowledging mental health as part of overall health is a step toward combating this ongoing crisis. As parents and as a society, we can work together to validate and improve our kids’ mental health.