post by Erika Higgins, PST4Y Executive Director
Every day, teens experience a wide spectrum of emotions while juggling many responsibilities and outside pressures and expectations. Teens are often treated as if they should be able to handle everything that is thrown at them and keep a smile on their faces while doing it.
However, many teens who struggle with anxiety, depression, or simple burn-out feel that they cannot talk with anyone about it. They are often told to "suck it up" and "keep going". Or, they may even receive positive-sounding encouragement:
You got this!
You can do this!
You can handle this, I believe in you.
Anything worth having is worth working hard for.
If it doesn't hurt, you're not trying hard enough.
Just keep smiling!
These short-and-sweet cheers can offer temporary bursts of encouragement but for a teen who is quietly struggling, these messages may have the opposite effect and trigger feelings of failure and inadequacy and cause them to bury their feelings even more.
Another reason teens may not share their real struggles is out of a sense of fear. Fear of disappointing others, fear of how others may treat them differently or think they are weak, fear of parents or others overreacting.
Many parents and adults did not grow up in environments that focused on emotions or mental health. Because of this, many parents often struggle with how to help their teens who may struggle emotionally or with mental health struggles. Yet, parents play a vital role in their teens' emotional wellbeing. Here are a few tips for how parents can help their teens feel comfortable talking about their emotional and mental health needs.
Make time and space for your teen to feel comfortable talking with you. If your teen is talking, show them they are worth listening to by giving them your attention. Put the phone down, move away from whatever you're working on and let them feel heard.
When your teen shares their feelings or struggles, respond with statements that validate their feelings rather than trying to wave them off or push them away. "That sounds really hard." "That is frustrating." "I can see why you feel upset about that."
3. Affirm and Encourage
With listening and validating, also provide words that affirm and encourage your teen in their feelings and personal experiences. "You are clearly feeling hurt by this. Thank you for sharing that with me." "This has been really challenging. You have worked really hard!"
Lastly, once you have spent time listening, validating, affirming and encouraging your teen, offer your support and resources. Let them know that you love them, always and that you want to help them through these hard times. Offer help by looking for ways you can make life less overwhelming. Look into outside resources for help too and plug your teen into those. They may not accept the help right away but remind them that you are here to help them because you love them and want them to feel better and enjoy life.
Remember your teens need you and other adults and friends in their life who will let them share their feelings honestly, confidently, and safely.
This week we are zoning in on teen mental health. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @pureandsimplet4y for more posts and resources. Check out our list of Mental Health Resources for parents and teens.