Parenting is a challenge no matter what your child’s age, however, teens bring other difficulties. When our kids reach their teenage years, our relationship with them changes. Teens are becoming more mature and dealing with developmental changes which can create even more power struggles and mood fluctuations.
Our relationships with our teens can change and begin to show us the cracks in the foundations of our relationships that weren’t as noticeable as before. What used to be “annoying” interactions between us and our kids turn into huge fights or just felt distances between us and them. Teens need autonomy and, at the same time, they need structure and safety — they’re not adults yet.
If you’re local to Coeur d’Alene, then you know how difficult it can be to find counseling for teenagers. As frustrating as that is, here are 10 ways you can support your teen’s mental health, even if you can’t find them an individual counselor.
1. Work on Yourself
Yes, that’s right! The single best thing you can do for your teen, or child at any age, is to work through your own issues, your own past pain, and address any of your own unprocessed pain and fear. Your own history with relationships, attachment style, and experiences will come into play when your teen unknowingly steps on your unhealed wounds. There are many books that can help and one particular book is “Raising a Secure Child” by Kent Hoffman.
2. Talk to Them Everyday
Even though they’re probably in their bedroom with the door shut, they still need mom or dad to check in with them. Ask them about their day and find out what was “happy” and “crappy” about their day. Find out what they’re up to or ask them about what they’re listening to on their AirPods. Make it your goal to get to know who they are. They are becoming their own individuals. Put aside your ideas of who they “should” be and just try to get to know who they are. Suspend your judgments and try to talk to them about their opinions and ideas without letting your discomforts get in the way. Religious differences, politics, and beliefs on gender are some significant issues that can trigger parents and cause ruptures in the relationship with your teen. While these are important issues, if you engage in rigidity when discussing these issues with your teen, then you may be driving a wedge between you and them that could continue into their adulthood.
3. Find Out What Makes Them Angry
Teens have a bad reputation for being angry a good portion of the time. If this is the case with your teen, use it as an opportunity obtain information about your child. Does their anger flare up when they feel controlled? Not respected? Not listened to? Overruled? Not trusted? Do they hate being “bossed around”? All of these are good information about the human you are cohabitating with. Be a good detective and use your teen’s anger triggers as information about who they are and then be respectful of that. Nobody likes to be bossed around, including your 14-year-old son or daughter. So you can acknowledge that to your teen if you’re having to set a boundary while, at the same time, being compassionate to their feelings of anger. Many times, listening to your teen about their anger will require you to bracket your own feelings so you can hear them. If you’re able to do a “good enough” job of this, you’ll set the stage in your relationship that will create a platform for more open communication as your teen turns into a young adult.
4. Notice and Talk about Their Feelings
In addition to noticing what makes them angry, notice what makes them happy, sad, rejected, inadequate, or scared. Help them create a vocabulary for their emotions where they can not only identify what they’re feeling but they can create a clear, cohesive message about what they’re feeling and what they need from you to help. There’s a huge difference between a raging teen yelling “get out of my room” with one who is capable of telling you “I’m really mad at you right now because you embarrassed me in front of my friend. I need some alone time.” If you work on teaching your teen how to communicate effectively with regard to their feelings and needs, you’ll be doing their future partner, employer, employees, friends, and children a huge favor.
5. Know Some Signs of Mental Health Issues
A change in your child’s behavior is one of the more significant things to notice when looking out for mental health issues. If your usually happy kiddo starts avoiding friends and is spending increased hours alone, this can be a sign of a mental health issue. Other common symptoms to watch for are fatigue, irritability, or frequent worrying about various things (e.g., friends, work, relationships, self-image, grades). Bouts of crying or emotional withdrawal are also important to observe. If your teen usually likes to play a sport or go outside and these begin to taper off, take note and talk to your teen about how they’re feeling and what’s going on. If something changes about your teen’s behavior or mood, this is definitely information for you and could be an indication of the onset of a mental health issue.
6. Encourage Them to do What They Enjoy
Being open to listening to your teen and really hearing what they like to do is so important. Then, encourage them and support them in accessing their hobby. This could mean noticing and dealing with your own disappointment if your teen doesn’t want to play an instrument or engage in a sport that you like. Pressuring teens into vicariously fulfilling our dreams as the parent can lead to ruptures in the relationship. Activities such as sports, dancing, singing in a choir, learning to drive a car, getting a job, playing an instrument or learning a second language are all activities that support improved mental health. So whereas these activities not be formal counseling for your teen, they could benefit mentally from them nevertheless.
7. Keep All Firearms Locked
As much as we never want to think about our child harming themselves or someone else, these cases do occur. Teenagers can be impulsive, moody, and struggle with thinking through situations that adults might find simple. Even if your child has taken firearm safety training and they are adept at handling these weapons, locking firearms is a non-negotiable.
8. Teach them Adulting 101 Skills
Teach your teen how to cook, to manage their finances and invest their money, how to do basic repairs on their car or change their own oil, and how to work at a job. Many of us remember what it was like to move out on our own and then struggle to do the basics like make a meal for ourselves. A sense of competency in life brings a sense of empowerment, leading to stronger mental health.
9. Be Genuinely Delighted In Them
This is such an important one! Everybody deserves at least one relationship where someone is genuinely delighted to see them, to be with them, to know them. This is one particular way to be intentional about meeting our teen’s basic attachment needs. As human beings, we all have basic attachment needs (which include feeling heard, being trusted, being allowed space, to feel safe, and to have structure and consistency). Try to identify which ones your teen seems to need and focus on providing those attachment needs while also genuinely enjoying them as individuals. If you struggle with this as a parent, explore your own triggers and process your past. Your child could be again triggering your unhealed wounds.
10. Find Them Professional Mental Health if Needed
Sometimes our kids really need their own professional mental health treatment. Be sure to ask them what kind of a counselor they want. If you find a counselor that you want rather than the kind your teen wants, this could be an instant set back and could set up the therapeutic relationship to fail before it’s even had a chance to begin. If your teen has a particular type of counselor they want, don’t be shy about asking. Teens value having a voice in their treatment and that starts with including them in making a choice in what type of counselor they see. Sometimes teens also need more intensive treatment and regular, weekly counseling is not adequate. If this is the case with your teen, intensive outpatient treatment exists. Check with your insurance to see if there are options near you.
I hope this article has provided some help and guidance on supporting your teen’s mental health. Don’t forget to have compassion for yourself and for them as you walk through life together. Parenting teens can be amazing and so fulfilling. Know that you are doing the best that you can and so are they. Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to see other topics addressed.