Adolescents (children aged 10-18) are in a unique transitional period with many mental, emotional, and physical challenges. As their bodies change and their hormones rise and fall, they experience the beginnings of adulthood, trying to discover their individual identities and sexualities. Mental health issues among adolescents have become increasingly prevalent, due in part to a rise in education and awareness of them among adults. As our society continues to evolve, we are likely to continue seeing these issues develop at increasing levels. It can be challenging for parents to know how to handle their teenaged children’s mental and emotional needs, but it’s important to remember that their mental/emotional health is just as important as their physical health. Here are five things to know about your teenager’s mental health in order to best meet their needs.
Teenagers Need Love and Acceptance
The adolescent years are filled with all the complications of growing and waning relationships. It’s a time that’s full of learning, with new experiences in spades. Unfortunately, as teenagers learn to accept themselves and others, they are likely to experience rejection, bullying, peer pressure, and other hardships as they start to discover who they are and who they want to be around. Teenagers learn or inherit many of their behaviors and emotional/societal cues from their parents. This is why it’s so important that you create a safe place for them to learn and grow, even as your children start to act more like independent adults.
Spend time with your children and show with both actions and words that who they are matters to you and that you love and accept them no matter what. They need a place of safety where they can come to talk about their thoughts and feelings and learn to deal with complicated emotions in constructive ways. Teenagers’ abilities to love and accept themselves begins with their parents accepting them as unique and special individuals. By doing these things, you will begin to cultivate healthy mental and emotional patterns in them and teach them to stand up for who they are and what they believe in.
Teenagers Need Structure
Even though many adolescents begin to act like adults, they still need consistency and structure in their lives if they are to be mentally healthy. The best way to assist with this is to create structure with them and help them learn to make their own decisions within it. The structure of their younger years may not be necessary to the same degree, but you can adapt the things you did then to work now, like scheduling consistent sleep routines, homework and activity times, family meals, and other social events. This is especially important for adolescents who are learning to manage mental illness, as structure and routine mean safety, predictability, and comfort. Also, the adolescent years are often a time when teenagers push their boundaries to see where the lines are. This is them testing their individuality, and while it’s important to keep certain boundaries in place, it’s also important to let them make their own decisions and experience the consequences.
Teenagers Need Social Activity
Humans need each other. Ongoing isolation, whether forced or self-imposed, is oftentimes a first step toward mental illness like depression, anxiety, and suicidal thinking. This is especially true of adolescents, who are just beginning to figure out who they are. They need the company of peers and like-minded individuals to help them navigate their thoughts and feelings and to experience life with. It’s crucial that you help your child figure out ways to be social with their peer groups in a healthy way.
Teenagers Need Physical Activity
Playtime may be something that many people think of as being appropriate for younger children, but it’s just as important for adolescents. Granted, physical “playtime” will often look more like sports and outdoor activities like hiking and camping, the kinds of activities are still beneficial to adolescent health. Science has shown that the more active and outdoor time adolescents get, the more likely they will be to become functional adults. To encourage healthy habits, you may want to consider placing limits on screen time, emphasizing family outdoor adventures, or encouraging participation in school or local sports teams. Not only will this provide an outlet for their mental and physical needs, but it will also help teach them a balanced view of practicing a healthy lifestyle in the future.
Teenagers Need Help Through Mental Illness
Mental illness in adolescents is more common now than it ever has been, due in part to the amount of awareness it’s receiving and the number of clinical diagnoses being made. Teens who struggle with mental illness need support, understanding, and unconditional love just like or even more than their peers, even if making an effort to provide it for them is challenging. They also may need to be reminded that what they’re struggling with does not make them “broken” or abnormal. So take time to encourage them and walk with them through their struggles. Make yourself available as a safe and judgement-free environment to listen to them and work with them, giving them constructive outlets to process what they’re thinking and feeling.
We Can Help!
Adolescents are important to us at Community Access Network, and we want to do everything we can to help you help them grow into mature adults in a healthy way. We offer pediatric and behavioral health services to assist with this, along with medication prescription (if it’s actually necessary). Contact us today to learn more about how you can help your teenager grow into an adult who can safely and constructively manage their mental health.