How can we help teens better cope with the pressures they face?

  1. Recognize that anxiety and depression are on the rise among school-aged youth.

It’s not surprising, with the increasing academic pressure of school and the impact of social media, that young people have been reporting more anxiety and depression over the last several years. Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic has resulted in social isolation, feelings of loneliness, and loss of routine – all of which increase the risk of mental illness. While a certain amount of stress and anxiety is a part of everyday life, chronic stress can take a serious toll on a child’s mental health.

  1. Teach your child to cope with emotions in a positive way.

Simply telling your child to focus on the positive – or to look at the glass as half-full – may minimize their feelings. Instead, LISTEN empathetically and acknowledge what they are going through. Sometimes, just listening and showing your concern is all they need.

A helpful strategy, recommended by mental health experts, is teaching kids to name the emotion they are feeling. Helping children acknowledge and express their feelings in appropriate ways can have a profound effect on their well-being. This is one of the many MINDFULNESS strategies that can be taught at a young age and stored in their emotional “tool box” when life gets more complicated.

  1. Help your teen understand the importance of “self-care.”

Self-care plays an important role in mental health. If your teen hasn’t been practicing good self-care habits lately, this month can be a great time to start. Self-care habits include getting the proper amount of sleep, making healthy food choices, exercising regularly, and participating in activities that bring joy and help them feel energized.

Self-care can also include activities such as journaling, meditation, and yoga. These are all ways to help kids become more self-aware and grounded by focusing on the now. If these practices are unfamiliar to you or your child, explore them together. It’s all about finding healthy ways to de-stress and recharge.

  1. Model how to navigate everyday stress.

When parents are stressed, kids feel it — even if they don’t show it. Acknowledge what you’re going through and talk about how you’re handling it. Practicing mindfulness can be really helpful. In the heat of the moment, you can model how taking a few mindful breaths can be calming and help you respond in a more rational way.

If you pour a glass of wine or beer for yourself, be careful not to say, “I had a really bad day.” Why? Because you don’t want your child connecting alcohol use with a way to manage stress or feel better. Instead, pair your anxiety with a healthy coping strategy by saying, “I had a really stressful day, so I’m going to take a nice, quiet walk to unwind.” Lead by example in how you handle your stressors and anxiety. This will help form positive lifelong habits for your child.

Here are a few more tips for teaching by example:

  • Continue modeling good behavior, even if you don’t think your child notices. They do.
  • If you do something you’re not proud of, own your behavior. Discuss what you could do better with your kids, allowing them to learn from your mistakes. This shows how failing and trying again builds coping skills, grit, and resilience.
  • Praise your kids when you see them using healthy coping skills on their own. Reinforcing positive behavior makes your teen feel proud and goes far to assure the behavior continues.