Supporting Your Teen’s Mental Health
Navigating your way through mental health issues can be a scary and sometimes frustrating process. Progression can be slow and it’s not always a straight and obvious path. Instead it can be filled with many ups and downs. So having a good support network can make all the difference in recovery. What if it’s not you experiencing the recovery though? What if it’s your child? The benefits of talk based support are for the entire family.
Adolescence is a challenging time. Paired with mental health issues, it can become increasingly more daunting and confusing. As a parent of a teen in Calgary, AB, it can be just as frightening. Knowing how to best guide them along the winding path to adulthood is challenge enough but seeing them experience the added stress and hurt of mental health issues can be heartbreaking. You want to support them, but you’re not quite sure how. Their path to recovery will be tricky and there will definitely be times where you’ll feel like there’s nothing you can do to help or even more upsetting, like everything you do just makes things worse. Rest assured, you’re not alone in these feelings.
Luckily though, there are a few relatively simple things you can do to help support them through this challenging time.
Access some professional support.
Let’s start with the most important thing, if you have concerns about your teen’s mental health, the first step is to link them in with professional support. A licensed therapist will be able to provide tools to both yourself and your teen to help them navigate their way to recovery. Teenagers like to be very independent, so they might be initially resistant to therapy, but if you are genuinely concerned about them, it might be time you stepped in and got them some support. This may involve a few difficult conversations, but trust us, these are conversations worth having!
A good support network makes all the difference when tackling mental health issues and where better to start your teen’s support network than right at home? This can be tricky though. As adolescence is a time to test boundaries and discover yourself, young people during this stage often seek solitude or space from their parents. So keeping a good relationship requires a balancing act between taking control and knowing when to step back. So getting in their face, bombarding them with questions or secretly searching their room for clues to how they’re feeling are all unlikely to help. BUT simply being there, being approachable and ready to listen without judgment will help immensely. Something as small as asking for help with cooking dinner or walking the dog provides an opportunity for checking in (and you’d be surprised how much more comfortable teens are about talking when their busy with another task!)
Remember though, that there will be times when your teen doesn’t want to talk and pushing too hard may send them scattering back into the bushes (we don’t want to scare them off!). However, if you make yourself available (this might be as simple as not wearing headphones when cooking dinner that night, or turning the television off) you send off the signal that you are here and have time for them. The more you are available, the higher the chance is that they might just take you up on the offer for a chat.
Be encouraging, but let them lead.
Okay, so you’ve got them here, they want to talk and they’ve started telling you all the problems going on for them. What now?
Now you listen…seems simple right?
Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple in the moment. Humans are problem solvers. So when someone tells you about a problem they are experiencing, often the natural tendency is to jump in and provide numerous solutions to try and fix the problem.
Yes, you want to help your teen solve any problems they are facing but you also don’t want to send them running now you’ve finally got them talking. Remember that independence is so important for them at this age, and if they think you’re trying to take that away from them they’ll go running. Understand that although you have more life experience, only they are the expert on how they are feeling and that’s what’s actually in question here right? So instead of jumping in with a solution next time, try one of the following:
1) Be curious.
2) Reflect back to check your understanding.
4) Ask what they’ve tried so far to solve the problem.
5) Ask what advice they might give a friend experiencing the same problem.
6) Ask how they would like you to support them at this time.
Be curious, but don’t probe.
Another thing that may send your teen running for the hills just when you got them talking is pushing for too much information, too soon. Curiosity is important as it shows your teen you are interested in and care about their problems, but probing them for lots of information straight away or showing a strong emotional response is not likely to be helpful. Instead, just listen. Let them lead the conversation and decide how much or little they want to tell you. Look to them for feedback, watch their body language, if you notice they are uncomfortable or seem to be shutting down the conversation then pull back. Otherwise, if they seem thankful for your questions and happy to share then keep going! Remember too that teens can be skittish, so often it might take a few, short, non-threatening conversations to get to the good stuff.
Look after yourself.
We all know it, but we often forget; you can’t help anyone if you’re already drowning yourself. Being a parent is challenging enough but when you’re dealing with the added stress of trying to support your teen through a very difficult time it’s important that you practice your own self care and ensure you have a good support network. Not only will this equip you with the mental space and emotional capacity to support your teen, it also normalizes difficult emotions (so your teen isn’t afraid to tackle them) and it models good emotional regulation and self-care. It can be really helpful for teens to understand that even though adults seem to “have it together” all the time, sometimes we do get stressed and that’s okay, because there are ways to cope with that stress. If you or your teen are having a difficult time of late and would like some support in the Calgary, AB area, book in a session with one of our expert Therapists.