Good parents want to help their children experience the best in life. But sometimes it is difficult to know how to help, especially during adolescence. The teen years are ordinarily challenging enough on their own, but when mental health issues are present, they are even more complicated.
1. Pay Attention to Behaviors
If you begin noticing uncharacteristic behaviors in your teenage children, don’t dismiss them as ordinary teen behaviors. Mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, can increase misunderstandings and make daily life more complicated for many teens. Parents need to be especially attentive and careful so that the symptoms of serious conditions are not overlooked or ignored. Invest the time to observe how your children are responding to ordinary physical and emotional situations. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has compiled a list of potential warning signs that your teen may be struggling with mental health issues. Pay attention to behaviors such as:
- Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
- Trying to harm or kill themselves, or making plans to do so
- Experiencing sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes accompanied by a racing heart or rapid breathing
- Getting in fights or wanting to hurt others
- Not eating, throwing up, or using laxatives to make themselves lose weight
- Having intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
- Experiencing extreme difficulty controlling behavior, putting themselves in physical danger or causing problems in school
- Using drugs or alcohol repeatedly
- Having severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Showing drastic personality changes
2. Engage in Respectful Conversation
Although it may seem self-evident, listening to and talking with your teenager is vital. Don’t allow life to keep you from interacting verbally in meaningful ways. Put away cell phones, turn off the TV and have a good conversation. Regularly ask about their day and inquire about how they are feeling. Listen attentively as they speak and resist the urge to interrupt or offer immediate solutions. Engage them without unnecessary confrontation, and it will open up the lines of real communication. This way your teens will know that you are available to listen when they are having a problem.
3. Use Active Listening Tools
When parents are engaging their teens and having serious conversations with them, using three active listening tools will help explore their feelings and ensure a better understanding of their needs:
- Open-ended questions. These types of questions typically elicit a narrative response and help teens to personalize the answers. Examples would be things like, “How did you feel in that situation?” or “Why does that make you feel angry?”
- Closed-ended questions. These are closed-ended question used to gather facts. For example, “When did that happen?” or “Why did you go there?”
- Paraphrasing and clarifying statements. It’s important to confirm that you understand what your teen is telling you. By summarizing or restating their responses, you not only make sure you got it right, but you convey to them that you were listening.
Some adolescents resist talking to their parents, even if you ensure comfortable and safe opportunities for respectful dialogue. In these situations, remind them there are other people they can speak with, such as pastors, school counselors, teachers, physicians and psychiatrists.
4. Seek Professional Assistance for Mental Health Issues
It’s important to be prepared and to take an active role, but remember the struggle doesn’t have to happen alone. There are many excellent resources to help parents and their teens, such as those provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental health services and trained mental health professionals are also available to provide support and healing. With assistance, many teens and young adults with mental health conditions live full lives. To learn more parenting tips for teens with mental health issues, give us a call at 877-466-0620.