How To Talk To Teens About Mental Health

Post-millennial teens are the first generation of kids to have smartphones and tablets within easy reach since birth. This a radically different experience from their parents, teens of the 80s and 90s whose parents controlled and often supervised their use of household technology.

Teens today aren’t just consuming media, they’re interacting with their peers (and others) in a fast-moving, unrelenting digital and online world. And they’re in the driver’s seat. Equipped with an arsenal of their own smart-devices, post-millennial teens navigate multiple complex social landscapes simultaneously and beyond the supervision of their parents.

Teenage brains crave stimuli, and feel everything as larger-than-life.

Emotions take up a lot of mental real estate and feel both real and urgent to still-developing teenage brains.

To be a teenager in 2019 means growing up in a world defined by insecurity and uncertainty. It also means living a world with no clear divide between the physical and the digital. The online world never stops or even slows, and teens are inundated with stimuli and information they have the intellectual ability to absorb but lack the emotional maturity to process.

The result is overwhelmed and overwrought teenagers who struggle to process what they think and feel. For teenagers across America, anxiety and depression are par for the course, with millions experiencing depression that impairs their daily lives.

How can parents connect with their teens about mental health?

Government agencies, schools and healthcare providers give well-meaning advice to parents for talking to teens. They’re told to watch their teen’s energy levels, sleep patterns, and social behaviors, and to be vigilant for signs of substance use or self-harm.

Parents who are involved with their teen’s school activities, extra-curriculars, homework supervision, and who monitor their social media footprint are often blind-sided when their teen opens up to them about their struggles with mental health. Many of the symptoms of a teen who is suffering are kept secret from parents—they happen behind closed doors or are coded into their online lives in language so deeply nuanced that even truly plugged-in parents struggle to understand what they’re seeing.

Many teens struggle to describe their stress and anguish, and don’t want to express it; they would rather deal with it on their own. A large number of teens feel guilty about sharing something that would disappoint or upset their parents.

There’s no single way to convince your teen to open up to you about what they’re feeling, whether they’re struggling with anxiety or depression, if they’re experimenting drugs or alcohol, or if they harm themselves or have considered suicide.

Here are six ways you can help your teen talk about their feelings and get help:

Open the lines. We encourage parents to open the lines of communication with their teen in a straightforward and judgmental-free way, and to keep those lines open. Let them know that you will hear them out, without judging them or blaming them.

Be patient. Demonstrating that you’re ready, willing and able to hear whatever your teen needs to tell you can dramatically improve your chances of catching on to something dangerous before it becomes devastating. Remind your teen that you’re there to talk without pressuring them to talk to you if they’re not yet comfortable.

Validate their feelings. When you’re talking to your teen, resist the urge to relate with them or dismiss their feelings. Instead, try to validate what they’re sharing. You don’t need to understand exactly what they’re going through to acknowledge that they’re going through something hard, you need only offer compassion and support.

Practice your poker-face. It’s natural as a parent to feel guilty and responsible for your teen’s suffering, or to feel distraught or devastated. Keep your feelings to yourself and focus on listening. We’ll help you find the most appropriate people to talk to about your teen’s mental health—a support group, a church group, or your Family First Adolescent Services therapist.

Cut straight through. Ask your teen what they want to do. Do they want to stop? Do they want to get help? Often, when a teen is not in an argument, they can identify wanting “things to be better”. Their definition of improvement may differ from yours, but the motivation is what’s important.

Inform yourself. Learn about the options that are available to teenagers and families to recover. Family First Adolescent Services is proudly the only private facility in the state of Florida that addresses teen mental health, substance use, or behavioral issues in a true dual-diagnosis and trauma-informed format. We have guided hundreds of teens and their families through the recovery process: helping parents move past guilt and shame, and helping your teen learn sustainable strategies for coping.

Through the course of your teen’s treatment, Family First Adolescent Services clinicians will help both you and your teen explore the underlying causes of depression and anxiety. Both parents and teens are our patients and we’ll provide both with the clinical support and practical tools you need to be able to move on to happier, healthier lives beyond treatment.

Talking to your teen about anxiety, depression, substance use, self-harm and suicide is just the start. We can help you and your family find a path to recovery that lasts a lifetime.

Call us today to learn more about our program for teens (561) 328-7370.

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