Parenting is hard. Parenting a teenager can be really hard. Especially nowadays.
Mental health concerns among teenagers have increased significantly in the last few years. As a parent, you may be wondering how you can check in on your teen’s mental health and offer the best support to help them live a healthy and happy life.
Read on to learn why the mental health of teenagers, especially teenage girls, is declining, and get tips from SonderMind’s Chief Medical Officer Doug Newton, MD, MPH, a psychiatrist specializing in child and adolescent mental and behavioral health, on what you can do if you’re worried about your teen’s mental well-being.
In this article, you’ll discover five ways you can support your teen’s mental health:
- Be a good listener
- Be open and honest about your own mental health
- Help them evaluate how they use social media
- Encourage getting help
- Connect with your teen
Isolation and social media are culprits to declining teen mental health
A recent study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shared alarming statistics about the rapidly declining mental health of teenage girls, stating that nearly 3 in 5 U.S. teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021. This represents an almost 60% increase, and is the highest level reported over the past decade. The study also shared that today’s teen girls are experiencing record high levels of violence, sadness, and suicide risk.
If your teen or someone you know has suicidal thoughts and is in crisis, call 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also find other emergency resources here.
Experts have pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as playing a big role in this decline due to the isolation and disruption it caused. However, other studies have shown that rates of depression in teens have also spiked due to the increased usage of social media.
According to Dr. Newton, this is because teenagers are naturally social creatures and are meant to use their teenage years to connect with others. Therefore, being isolated due to the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected them more than anyone. And while teens used and continue to use social media to help them stay connected, studies have found that social media actually makes the effects of loneliness even worse.
5 ways you can support your teen’s mental health
As a parent, it’s understandable to feel helpless in light of these recent statistics. There are, however, steps you can take to best support your teen during this challenging time.
In a column for the Dallas Morning News, Dr. Newton shared what parents can do if they are worried about their teenager and want to offer support to help them thrive:
1. Listen to your teen
We may think we are better at this than we actually are. It's important to remember to listen purposefully to your teen. If they're not ready to talk, that's okay, too. Trying to connect with your teenager and fully understand what they are going through can be challenging, but being comfortable with silence is important. Your teen may not know how to put their feelings into words and may take time to open up. So the more listening you can do, rather than speaking for them or making assumptions, the better.
2. Share your own mental health struggles and insecurities
All too often, your teen won't want to listen to you or take your advice. However, actions speak louder than words. Model positive behaviors like talking to them about your therapy appointment or how your morning meditation helped your day. Ask them to join you in behaviors that can help your mental health, such as going on a walk to clear your minds. Dr. Newton says that modeling positive mental health habits can encourage your teen to take part in them with you and on their own.
3. Help them check in on their social media use
Teens spend a lot of time on social media. But the real problem is how they're using it. Ask your teenager what they do most on social media. Do they use it to connect with friends or strangers? Do they look at tutorials to create things or to find inspiration, or do they spend time viewing filtered and photoshopped pictures of influencers? Ask them how being on social media makes them feel in the moment, and when they tend to feel the need to engage in social media. Do they use it as a distraction or because they have some free time? Your teen's answers to these questions will help you both get an idea of how they social media — and determine if they need to make positive changes.
4. Encourage your teen to get help
Talking about mental health and getting help is less stigmatized and more common than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, your teen probably has some friends in therapy. If your teen decides they'd like to seek therapy, you can ask their pediatrician or primary care doctor for a recommendation for a therapist. Or, SonderMind can help connect your teen with a therapist who’s right for their needs. The more people who can listen to and try to help your teen, the more support they'll have for their mental well-being.
5. Spend time with your teen
Beyond having conversations with your teen, it's also important to spend time with them to help them feel supported and let them know that you're looking out for them. Go out for ice cream or a meal, or take the dog for a walk together. Initially, your teen may not be interested, but showing that you care and want to connect with them during these pivotal years is important. Dr. Newton emphasizes that showing your support and spending time with your teen can help them realize they aren’t as alone as they think.
Parents aren’t alone, either
If you’re struggling with talking about mental health with your teen or if you’re seeing signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns, talking to a mental health professional may help. SonderMind therapists can help you start the conversation so you can best support your teen, while also helping you keep your own mental health a priority.