We're very grateful to Helen from Actually Mummy, a brilliant resource for advice on parenting teens, for writing this for Equipp.
Teenagers have it tough. It might be easy - from the outside looking in - to imagine teenage life to be carefree. After all, they have no financial responsibilities, no parenting stress, and get to spend most of their time with their friends. But take a look (and a wander down the memory lane of your own teenage years) at the list below of the causes of teenage stress, and you might realise that teenage mental health is under just as much - if not more - pressure as the stresses we suffers as adults. That's why we've come up with 5 things you can do to give your teen a mental health boost. Scroll down to read these quick tips.
Causes of teenage stress
- Friendship issues: You'll know these from your own experiences of being a teen. Figuring out who your real friends are, who has your back, and where you stand in the pecking order is an age-old part of growing up, and it never gets any easier.
- Academic pressure: Teenagers have always had pressure to perform at school, from teachers and from parents. But expectations are raised every year, and the need for schools to improve their own standing in the league tables means that teachers often push students down academic routes that don't necessarily make them happy.
- Relationships with parents: Children eventually need to be able to stand on their own two feet, which means pushing boundaries until they can separate from their parents, and run their own lives. This natural need to negotiate - and often argue - causes conflict that's hard to navigate, and to process emotionally.
- Workload: I remember feeling overwhelmed with homework when I was a teenager thirty years ago.
- Exam stress: Similarly, the anxiety of revising for, and sitting exams is intense. I made myself ill with stress and lack of sleep both times when I sat mine, and I know that schools are focused on exams for the entirety of teenagers' GCSE and A Level years. In my opinion, it's a level of pressure like no other in an average lifetime.
So, as a parent, carer or relative, what can you do to help teenagers combat the levels of stress in their lives?
5 mental health boosts for teenagers
1. How to help a teenager who's overwhelmed
Teens have a lot on their plates, with school work, extra-curricular activities, social commitments and possibly even paid work. It's easy to see how they might struggle to keep things in perspective, and manage to fit everything in. Parents might consider giving teens a break from household chores they normally have to do, especially during exams, or when their workload is particularly heavy. Offer to help them make a To-Do list and create a plan that breaks down their tasks into manageable chunks. It's often easier to relax about a big workload when it's out of your head and on paper in black and white.
Point out to your teenager that workload ebbs and flows. Sometimes it's easy to get stuck in a place of overwhelm, and to worry about whether or not they can cope. Equpp's Positivity Cushion is a nice reminder to the overwhelmed teen that they've got what it takes to get through what they're dealing with right now, and that there will come a time when they have much less to deal with, and can relax a bit more.
2. How to help a teen with low self-esteem
Teenagers are bombarded daily with messages about what makes the ideal person. Whether it's social media (airbrushed) images, competition at school that's difficult to beat, or one-upmanship amongst their friends, teens can quite easily fall into a place where their confidence suffers. This is where personalised praise comes into play. In a world where academic prowess and so-called perfect appearances are put on pedestals, the most important thing is to make sure your teen knows what they're good at. It might be baking the perfect sourdough, acing a tennis tournament, or volunteering at Cubs, but whatever they do that adds value needs to be celebrated. And they sometimes might need a little reminder of how brilliant they are.
3. How to support a teen through confusing times
Teenage life is often beset with confusion. Most teens have at some point wrestled over what to do about a boyfriend or girlfriend relationship, or with how to choose which subjects to study. And now, in the summer of 2020, with Covid-19 adding to uncertainties for everyone, older teens are dealing with more turmoil than ever before. A Level results are in disarray, and future study arrangements are up in the air for many. Even if these young adults have a clear academic path, they still might not know what their studies and time at university will look like, given the rules around social distancing right now.
Whatever life path your teenager is on, there are bound to be times when disorientation kicks in, and dealing with uncertainty is one of the most difficult lessons they might have to learn. It's a good one to nail though, so remind them of these 4 tactics for coping with the unknown:
- Focus on what you can control, not what you can't
- Keep your mind on today, not tomorrow
- Remember that you have everything you need to cope with whatever change life throws at you
- And also - you're unstoppable!
4. Helping a teen who's demotivated
There are always going to be times in our lives when our energy for the day-to-day is a bit lacking. I know several teenagers who've felt lacklustre during Coronavirus lockdown - in fact, I've felt it myself, and I'd challenge anyone to say they haven't! I think in these circumstances it's fine to reassure your teen that it's normal to have days, and sometimes even weeks, when you feel like you just can't be bothered with the things that usually fire you. But when it starts to bother them, or lasts too long, there are some tactics you can use to keep them engaged, and bring more joy to their lives. Keeping a routine is the first place to start.
Teenagers usually like to sleep in, and if it fits with their commitments, I wouldn't mess with that! But once they are up, having specific things that they do at the same time every day helps to give structure, and a sense of purpose to their days. It might be a set time to have a bike ride, walk the dog, or sit down to do homework. You could suggest that they make a simple meal for the family one evening a week, or plan a regular family movie night, or games afternoon. Even something as simple as insisting on the whole family for Sunday roast can be enough to bring a switched off teen back into family life, if only for a short while.
And it's worth remembering, as the parent of teens, that they often seem lacklustre about life, when in fact it's just that they're a bit bored. If that's the case you might find something to inspire them in this list of activities for bored teens.
5. Supporting a teen through disappointment
Right now there are lots of teens dealing with the disappointment of A Level results that haven't matched their hopes. But call disappointment heartbreak, and there's potential for teenagers to be suffering with extreme levels of sadness at any point in their year. Sadly, this is just one of those life lessons that we all have to go through, but how do you help them?
- Remind them that these things take time, and that they will feel better eventually.
- Listen. Allow them to vent, without trying to make it better, no matter how much you want to. The most important thing is for them to let off steam, and the best thing you can be is the sounding block for their emotions.
- Agree with them. Even if you disagree. Teenagers dealing with disappointment need to feel validated before they can think about moving forwards.
- Ask them what they can do that will help, and help them do it if needed. If it's exam disappointment, can they resit, appeal, or look elsewhere for a rewarding career or academic path?
- Encourage them to keep a routine. Just doing the normal things will help them get through each day, to feel better.
- Distract them. Sometimes their mind just needs to be on other things for a while. Try cooking together, going for a walk, or going to the gym. Anything that keeps their head busy with something else for a few hours.
- Treat them. Remind them that they are loved, valued, wonderful...