Mental Health During The Teenage Years

This is a term that some of us embrace… and other’s shudder.  Teenagers.  This is a stage of life that some of us embrace… and other’s shudder.  Teen mental health can seem hard to pin down at times.  To be honest, many teenagers can be volatile with each moment bringing, well, let’s just say adventure. 

If teenagers’ mental health can seem so up and down from one moment to the next, how in the world do we help support their mental health?  Let’s first look at some signs that might draw a red flag to unwellness in teen mental health:

  • Isolation. This is beyond listening to music all afternoon tucked away in their rooms, but let’s face it, sometimes our teens need us to get them out of their rooms.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Self-harm. This may include cutting, burning with an eraser, scratching/scraping.  Teens can also be tricky and hide these battle wounds.
  • Depressed mood extending for more than one month. This can include little interest or pleasure in doing things, excessive (for teens) amount of sleeping or excessive difficulties with sleep, and poor appetite or overeating. 
  • Extreme of excessive fears or worries.

A question that may help to decide if it is time to get support for your teen is this: Do these symptoms create an impairment in functioning?  In other words, does it keep your teen from hanging out with friends and family, going to school, or participating in extracurriculars?

6 Ways to Support Your Teen

So, how do we support our teens mental health.  I’ve learned over the years that there are things we should do and should NOT do in support of mental health well-being.  Here are some things to do:

1.     Limit screen time, especially social media.  More and more research is coming out on the harmful impact social media and excessive screen time has on the minds of our developing teens.  Think of it this way: If your teen spends 2 hours per day in front of a screen (phones, computers, tablets, etc), that is a total of 14 hours a per week.  That is one full waking day!  Most teens spend well beyond on this.

2.     Mindfulness.  There are many audio-led apps that help teens practice mindfulness which has shown to improve mood.

3.     Physical activity.  150 minutes of physical activity that gets the heart rate up should do the trick. Body movement is important to our emotional and physical health.

4.     Sleep hygiene.  Sleep hygiene actually starts about 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.  This is how we prepare our bodies for sleep.  Teens need a good night sleep and if they can’t sleep, at least ways to rest (this means no screens).

5.     Have fun.  Our teens need safe ways to be fun and goofy.  This helps them to rest their minds and releases all those feel good chemicals that restore the mind and body.  When was the last time you had a good belly laugh with your teen?

6.     Challenge.  Our teens need a healthy amount of challenge. So much research has come out on the impact of parenting that smooths the path for kiddos.  It actually prevents teens from building resilience.  They learn through challenge they are capable and can get through hard circumstances.  Just remember, they do need us to walk alongside them through challenge.

These lists are not exhaustive, but they can provide the opportunity to pause and reflect on how our teens are doing well in some of these areas and how we might support them in improving in other areas!   

Happy mental health-ing with your teens!