Adolescence is a critical stage of life marked by significant mental, emotional, and social development. It’s a time where teens are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in in the world. Unfortunately, it is also a time when many mental health disorders emerge. Research shows that 1 in 5 teens meet criteria for a mental health disorder (NIMH). Untreated mental health symptoms among adolescents often result in negative outcomes such as poor school performance, school dropout, substance abuse, engage in risky behavior, and suicide.
Furthermore, family support plays a crucial role in promoting the mental health of adolescents. The presence of supportive family members can have a positive impact on a child’s overall well-being. Family support has been linked to teens' self-esteem and resilience. Research found that teens with consistent emotional support from their families have lower levels of anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues. It can be difficult to know how to support your teen while they navigate adolescence, so I want to provide you with some ways you can create a supportive environment to promote your child’s mental health.
Practice L.U.V. for your Teen.
Listen: Actively listen to what your teen is saying to you. Make sure to give them your full, undivided attention. Allow your teen to talk without interrupting or jumping to conclusions. Many teens feel misunderstood, so this is a really important step.
Understand: Really try to understand your teens perspective. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. You can also ask them clarifying questions to further understand what they’re saying. Be sure to be open and nonjudgmental while asking questions.
Validate: Let them know their feelings are valid, and normalize their feelings. Reflect back what they are feeling, so they know you are listening and understand. Examples: “That must be really difficult” or “Of course you’re feeling ______ (emotion)”.
Reduce the Stigma Around Mental Health
We all deal with mental health concerns at some point. It is part of being human, so its important to normalize it. When families openly discuss mental health, it sends a powerful message that mental health issues are valid and deserve support. This can create a more open, safe environment for your teen to talk about issues they’re experiencing and feel more comfortable asking for help. Emphasize how courageous it is to recognize they need help and seek help. Seeing a therapist for your mental health is not any different than seeing a doctor for your physical health.
Let Your Child Know You Care About Them and Love Them.
Words of affirmation can be very powerful coming from a parent. Expressing love and care can improve the bond between you and your teen. Teens are more likely to open up, express themselves, and develop better self-esteem when they have a secure relationship with their parent(s). Teens need to know you care about them and love them.
Invalidate Their Feelings
Many well-intentioned parents accidentally invalidate their teen while trying to make them feel better. Some examples of invalidating phrases are: “Just be happy”, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” “You have a good life,” or “It could be worse.” These phrases can cause teens to feel ashamed for having certain feelings and lead to them push down their emotions. It can also negatively affect your relationship with your teen because they may feel misunderstood and less comfortable opening up to you in the future. Emotions are part of being human, and it’s actually healthier to let your child feel their emotions than suppress them.
In all, families can have a significant impact on a teen’s mental health. If you've read this and realized you’ve made some of these mistakes before, have some compassion for yourself. There is no perfect parent, and everyone is trying their best. Many teens feel like they are not taken seriously, so one thing that can mean a lot to your child is apologizing to them, acknowledging that you’ve made mistakes, and making active changes to be better. Being a teenager is really hard, so having a supportive parent can make a big difference. In addition, encouraging your teen to see a therapist can offer them additional support and guidance to overcome their mental health challenges. If you think your teenager may benefit from therapy in Gainesville, FL, feel free to give me a call at 352-649-3876 or fill out my contact form to set up an appointment. (Click here to learn more about me!) For more information on if your teen may benefit from therapy, check out my therapy for teens page.
Written by Sasha Larson, LMHC.