With the events of the past few years, from Covid lockdowns to the recent escalating discord around the world, it is inevitable that mental health among teenagers is at risk. Add to that, the social pressures and tensions that teens face on a daily basis and the fact that internally they face a whole host of changes – physically and mentally. Here is how we as parents or teens reach out to each other and talk about mental health.
As parents, we are often the first the notice when our child starts behaving differently. When they are young, it is easy to tease the reasons out of them, simply spending more time, playing, casually hanging out, even bribery works. But for teens, it is a whole other story. On one hand, you have an almost adult, who is trying to assert their independence, and their own authority yet at the same time, they lack in full maturity and life experience to completely handle every situation they may encounter.
As a teen, trying hard to be strong, to show the adults in life for help. Often teens are sensitive and far more aware of the challenges and worries the adults in their life face – financial pressures, family concerns – all weigh heavily on a teen, who often does not have a secure outlet or support system in place.
This makes conversations at both ends, scary and daunting. Yet without a doubt, without communication, neither party can offer nor receive help and support. In this post we look at how parents and teens can start open and supportive discussions about mental health.
Top Tips For Parents – to talk about mental health
Here are tips for parents approaching the subject of mental health with their teens.
1. Choose the right moment
Find a time when both you and your teen are calm and free from distractions. It might be during a quiet evening at home, a car ride, or during a peaceful walk. An opportune time ensures the conversation remains uninterrupted and allows both parties to be mentally present.
Tip: Look for times when your teen seems more open or relaxed. Avoid times when they are visibly stressed, rushing to complete tasks, or preoccupied with other activities.
2. Open with genuine concern
Start the conversation by expressing genuine care and concern. For example, “I’ve noticed you’ve been quieter than usual, and I just wanted to check in. How are you feeling?” Authenticity builds trust and creates a safe space for your teen to open up.
Tip: Use “I” statements to express concern without blaming or making them defensive, e.g., “I’ve been worried about you.”
3. Listen actively
Focus on listening more than speaking. Nod, maintain eye contact, and give verbal cues like “I understand” to show you’re engaged. Active listening validates feelings and ensures understanding.
Tips: Summarise what you’ve heard to confirm understanding, e.g., “So, you’re saying that…”
4. Avoid judgment and assumptions
Phrases like “Why can’t you just snap out of it?” can be dismissive. Instead, try open-ended questions such as “Can you tell me more about how you’re feeling?” Judgment can shut down communication, making teens less likely to share.
Tip: Be conscious of your body language, facial expressions, and tone. Even if words are supportive, non-verbal cues can convey judgment especially to teens who are hyper-sensitive of people’s reactions.
5. Share your observations
Rather than making assumptions, share what you’ve observed: “I’ve noticed you haven’t been hanging out with your friends as much. Is everything okay?” Sharing observations rather than interpretations shows you care without jumping to conclusions.
Tip: Be specific about behaviours you’ve observed without attaching labels or interpretations, e.g., “I noticed you’ve been spending a lot of time in your room.”
6. Reassure and offer support
Make sure your teen knows you’re there for them, no matter what. “I’m here for you, and we can find help or solutions together.” This helps to reinforce trust and the understanding that you’re on their side.
Tip: Use affirming statements like “We’ll get through this together” or “I’m always here for you.”
NHS has a page on getting your teenagers to talk openly about what is bothering them. The tips there are not dissimilar to our top tips but to reinforce our points, you may wish to take a look – Talking to your teenager (NHS).
Top Tips For Teens – to talk about mental health
Here are some advice and strategies for teenagers looking to talk about mental health with their parents.
1. Pick someone you trust
This might be a parent, teacher, school counsellor, coach, or friend. Choose someone you feel will listen and support you. A trusting relationship can make the process of opening up smoother.
Tip: Think of past instances where this person has been understanding or supportive. Trust that help and support will be forth-coming.
2. Choose your moment
Find a quiet time to talk when you won’t be interrupted. Proper timing ensures you’re mentally ready and can articulate your feelings.
Tip: Find a quiet time, maybe after dinner or before bedtime, when you feel calm and composed.
3. Be honest about your feelings
It’s okay to admit you’re struggling. Phrases like “I’ve been feeling really overwhelmed lately” or “I don’t feel like myself” can be a starting point. Honesty provides a clear picture of what you’re going through.
Tip: It’s okay to say, “I’m not sure how to put this into words, but I’ll try.”
4. Ask for what you need
Maybe you want someone to listen, or perhaps you’re looking for advice. Let the person know: “I just need someone to talk to right now” or “Do you have any advice on handling this?” Clearly communicating your needs helps to ensure that you will receive the type of support you’re seeking.
Tip: Be as specific as possible, e.g., “Can we see a counsellor?” or “Can I take a day off school?”
5. It’s okay if it’s not perfect
Remember, starting the conversation is the most important step. It might not go perfectly, but that’s okay. The essential thing is to reach out. Understanding that it is the effort that counts can help reduce pressure.
Tip: Remember, the goal is to initiate communication. It is a step-by-step process.
Tips For Both Parties – to talk about mental health
Be open to continued dialogue
One conversation might not resolve everything, and that’s okay. Let it be the beginning of ongoing communication. Regular check-ins can make a world of difference. Mental health is a journey. Ongoing conversations offer continuous support and understanding.
Tip: Schedule regular check-ins, even if they’re brief. Consistency often fosters trust.
Seek outside support if needed
Sometimes, conversations can reveal deeper issues that might benefit from professional intervention. Be open to seeking therapy or counselling if it seems appropriate. Sometimes, third-party intervention provides necessary expertise and guidance.
Tip: Research therapists or counsellors in your area, attend workshops, or join support groups to gain additional perspectives and tools.
In conclusion, the key to “starting the conversation” lies in creating an environment of trust, understanding, support and empathy. By taking the time to genuinely engage with one another, both teens and parents will find ways in which they can support one another, paving the way for better mental health.