NOTE: If your teen is in crisis or may be suicidal, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For concerns about teen mental health, see our post When Your Teen Needs Help: Where to Turn and What to Do.
Teens today live in a much different world than past generations, for better and worse. Though they might seem worldlier than you remember being at their age, they still have many of the same needs and stresses. They still need guidance, support, love and acceptance as they navigate the physical, social and emotional changes of puberty and early adulthood.
Don’t underestimate your role in your teen’s life. Your day-to-day interactions and guidance can help your teen set a course for a fulfilling and healthy life.
Setting an Example
It goes without saying, yet it’s easy to forget. Your teen is watching you, so be aware of your own habits and communication style as well. It’s hard to encourage a teen to, say, put the phone down and communicate face to face if you’re constantly online yourself. Your behaviors have an influence on your teen, so make sure you take care of yourself. Don’t neglect your own needs in the rush of work and daily life, and develop healthy coping skills that you’d like to encourage in your teen.
Social Media and Screen Time
As most schoolwork is done on computers nowadays, our kids are spending a lot of time looking at screens. Too much time spent online can cut into other activities and has been linked to symptoms of increased anxiety.
It may not be realistic to ban your teen from social media and texting, but setting limits is helpful. Try to do it in a positive, nonpunitive way. Set aside times for family fun. Start a conversation in the car, have a family game night or go for a walk together. Make certain times, such as mealtime, tech-free — and make sure you follow the rules yourself.
It’s also important to monitor your teen’s activity and be aware of whom they’re communicating with. Online bullying and predatory behavior are real threats. Make sure you talk to your teen about what to watch out for and how to respond.
Being Social IRL
Your teen’s smartphone might seem like their social lifeline, but everyone of every age needs real social connection and face-to-face interaction. Encourage your teen to get together with friends outside of school. Go places together as a family, and let them see you interact with others outside your immediate circle. Clubs, youth groups and sports offer many chances to make friends and share interests.
Eating, Sleeping and Staying Active
Your teen’s physical and mental well-being are closely linked. Evidence shows eating healthy foods, staying active and getting plenty of rest can help prevent symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Try keeping a variety of fruit and vegetables in easy reach, as well as whole grains and lean protein, and use a variety of seasonings. Limit chips, candy, fried foods and other “junk” food. Teach your teen how to prepare healthy meals and snacks— it can be fun for both of you.
Exercise is also linked to good mental health. It doesn’t have to be work — active play is good for body and mind. Dancing, biking, walking or sports all count as exercise and have mind and body benefits. Encourage your teen to find the activities they enjoy and make them a priority.
Teenagers need about 9 hours of sleep each night — even if they say they don’t. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same times each day is a good idea for both of you. Encourage your teen to put away the phone, turn off the television and have a relaxing routine before bedtime.
Your Teen’s Brain: Care and Feeding
A healthy brain is an active brain — but your teen’s brain needs downtime too. One skill that can help is mindfulness — simply being aware of your body, mind and feelings in the present moment, without judging or trying to change them. Mindfulness has been shown to:
- Improve mood
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Enhance life satisfaction
- Improve physical health
Mindfulness shouldn’t be a chore. Encourage your teen to take moments of pause to simply breathe and notice their surroundings. Even a quick break can be powerful.
Believe it or not, your teen’s smartphone can be a tool for mindfulness. You’ll find a wide range of apps that can help. One teen-friendly example is Stop, Breathe and Think, developed with teens in mind. The app lets you check in and chart how you’re feeling. Then it recommends guided meditations and activities. More than 20 meditations, sticker rewards, tracking, videos and a meditation timer are free. Additional meditations and activities are offered for a fee.
Pediatrician as Partner
Regular check-ups are an important resource for your teen’s mental and physical health. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about any concerns you have, and encourage your teen to do the same. Give them a chance to talk to the pediatrician alone, so they can open up about stresses and questions they may not be ready to share with you. Your teen’s pediatrician can address many issues and can refer you to other resources or specialists if needed.
For additional support, make an appointment with a licensed clinician for a no-cost assessment through El Camino Hospital’s ASPIRE (After-School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education) programs. The ASPIRE team can evaluate your child’s needs and make recommendations or referrals if needed. Call 866-789-6089 to schedule a free, confidential assessment. Find out more.
This information was presented, in partnership with Fremont Union High School District, at A Healthy Mind: A Discussion with Parents on Teen Mental Health.