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Effective Communication with Teens about Mental Health

Effective Communication with Teens about Mental Health

Parents often struggle to determine the boundaries of communication with their teenagers. Say too much and you’ll be ignored. Say too little and your child faces the risk of making a bad decision. No matter what communication line you tread, you’ll want to talk to your teen about mental health. 

Teens have an intense emotional life. Emotions can be painful in some situations and incredibly satisfying in others. Most of all, emotions are confusing, and with so much pressure to “be tough” or “grow up,” your teen needs to be taught healthy ways to allow and manage their big feelings. They also need to know the difference between normal emotions and those that may indicate a mental health disorder. 

Offer an Opening to Your Teen

Not all teens approach conversations about tough topics in the same manner. Many need and want to talk but don’t feel comfortable starting a dialogue. That’s why you, as a caregiver, will want to provide them with the opportunity to have the discussion.

In a non-judgmental way, talk to your teen about mental health as you see it playing out in their life at that moment. For example, you may say, “You don’t seem to be talking to your buddy as often.” Then, allow your child to open the conversation in a way that’s beneficial to them. They may need some help learning to cope with peer pressure.

Often, slipping grades and trouble getting work done can be the first sign of a concern. You could start a conversation by saying, “I know your classes are tough right now. Is there anything going on that you want to talk about, or could I offer additional help?”

Listen More Than You Talk

When your child was young, you probably had to tell them exactly what to do, whether it was to wash their hands or stop trying to climb the bookshelf. As your child moves into their teenage years, they are ready to start making decisions for themselves, and they need your support as they do so. One of the best ways you can support your teen is to listen to them. 

  • Ask open-ended questions and wait.
  • Avoid providing a solution. Listen to them work a solution on their own and offer advice only when they ask for it.
  • Ask them what you can do to help. 

By listening instead of talking, you’re communicating that you believe your teen has what it takes to make wise decisions on their own. These challenging instances your teen faces are the foundation of learning about themselves, the world, and others.

Normalize Mental Health Conversations 

It’s quite easy to fall into the trap of not talking about mental health, but your child needs to know that everyone struggles sometimes and that talking about problems can be a powerful way to cope. Consider these tips:

  • Discuss your own thoughts and emotions when appropriate. Your child doesn’t need and will not benefit from you crying on their shoulder. However, you can communicate that you are facing a stressful day and what you need to do to feel calmer. In doing so, you’ll be teaching them stress management strategies.
  • Make conversations about negative emotions easy. Sadness, anger, loneliness, shame–all of these are part of life. Talk about what these emotions feel like, ways to work through them, and when they might indicate a mental health disorder, like depression or anxiety. 
  • Discuss stigmas. Breaking stigmas around mental health is something all people should actively work towards, especially those working to raise the next generation. Talk to your child about the right way to help someone facing trauma or a bad day.

There is no foolproof solution to discussing mental health with your teen. Yet, as a parent, it’s critical that you develop effective strategies for educating your child about mental health.

Build the Relationship

As a parent, you should aim to have an open and honest relationship with your child. That fosters a sense of openness and encourages them to reach out to you when there’s a need. To do that, consider these steps:

  • Share things about yourself. Create connections between you and your child.
  • Develop shared interests. These bonds can help to foster a sense of support and allegiance they may rely on later.
  • Show interest in what your child is doing, saying, and experiencing. They need to see that you actively care.

Get the Help You Need to Start the Conversation

At Willow Creek Behavioral Health, we work with adolescents and adults navigating the complexity of mental health. Reach out to us for guidance and support as you move towards this path. If your child is struggling with any aspect of mental health, contact us now to learn about our treatment options.

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