This past year has been stressful for all of us, especially high school students. If you’re not sure how hard the COVID era has hit teens, just ask your school counselor how much social and emotional distress increased starting in the spring of 2020. Our support networks and coping strategies have had to adjust to account for social distancing and distance learning. During this current health crisis, mental health needs to be treated with the same urgency as physical health among adolescents: 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24. Teens need healthy outlets for stress so they can grow into resilient adults.
New York State Mental Health Resources and Training Center shares essential information, current practices, and guidance on mental health from the NYS Education Department. Here are some valuable tips for families:
Talk openly about mental health.
When we talk openly about mental health, you will encourage your teens to seek support and help when it is needed without stigma or embarrassment.
Model your own healthy habits.
Children and teens learn by observing. When parents use positive coping strategies to manage life’s stressors, your teens are more inclined to develop and use their own strategies.
Spend time together as a family.
It is not just young children that need love, time and attention. Setting time aside to be with your teen produces a stronger bond, making them feel valued and loved. Invite them to join you in an activity you enjoy to reduce stress. This is especially important as social distancing has made it harder to socialize with peers.
Participate in community or volunteer activities.
Find activities that connect your teen with their community. Allow their interests to drive their commitments so they will experience a sense of belonging and purpose. There are many charitable organizations wherever you live that focus on food insecurity, animal welfare, children’s health, environmental issues, and social activism.
Encourage regular exercise
Teens need at least one hour of daily physical exercise to promote healthy development, and exercise is one of the most effective strategies for maintaining a healthy mind. Exercising stimulates chemicals that improve our moods and allow us to channel negative energy positively.
Praise your child’s efforts and behavior
Do not just praise results; also praise effort. When we are praised on something we did, we feel good about ourselves, and our confidence and self-esteem increases. Praise also helps to motivate teens and encourages them to continue to try new things.
Create calm spaces.
When we are fatigued and stressed or struggle with mental health problems, our brains process environmental cues (lights, sounds, etc.) differently. Create a comfortable space and minimize clutter in your home to promote a positive mood and minimize overstimulation. Promote a little of what we like to call strategic laziness to help exhausted mental and emotional reserves to recharge.
If you need more information for your teen, reach out to your teen’s primary care providers to receive personalized answers. Make sure to also take care of your own mental health to have the resources to help your family and to model good behavior.
Image via College AD.