As COVID-19 continues to affect our daily lives, adolescents are increasingly feeling the distress of the difficulties the pandemic has created.
As a result, schools are seeing an increase in the severity of depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidality, and eating disorders among students
As these symptoms have increased in teens, school violence and a lack of emotional regulation have also increased (Atkins, 2022). According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among adolescents increased by 31% in 2020 from 2019. In February and March of 2021, emergency department visits for suicide attempts increased by 51% among 12-17-year-old girls from 2019. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared that the pandemic-related decline in child and adolescent mental health has become a national emergency (https://www.cdc.gov/).
With mental health concerns on the rise in teens, here are five ways to support your teen or a teen in your community:
1. Foster Youth Connectedness
Connectedness can be defined as a sense of being cared for, supported, and belonging. Adolescents who feel connected at school and home are less likely to experience adverse health outcomes related to sexual risk, substance use, violence, and mental health. Adolescents who feel connected at school and home were as much as 66% less likely to experience these health risk factors. Youth connectedness has positive, lasting effects. Connectedness is an important protective factor (https://www.cdc.gov/).
2. Regularly Communicate with your Teen
Spending time with your teen is imperative. Communicating openly and honestly about your values and asking about their world is of paramount importance. The adolescent years can be fragile times. Teens are thirsty to make connections and better understand the world. As a parent, you’re one of their first doorways to adulthood. Sharing your values with your teen and talking about what makes them excited, sad, and happy can help you learn more about their world and create a better understanding between both parties.
Additionally, supervise your adolescent to help them make healthy decisions. Spend time enjoying shared activities. Make dinner time or a weekly activity together a priority.
3. Become Engaged in Your Teen’s School Life
In middle and high school, a parent’s lens into school activities is harder to view. At this age, children are taught to be more independent. However, making yourself present during this time is also essential. Volunteer at your adolescent’s school and communicate regularly with teachers and administrators. Ask about their homework and how they are doing in school. This can give parents insight into how the child is acclimating to school and how they feel about themselves away from home. Additionally, volunteering at your child’s school can give you a glimpse of their school world and open up more conversations at home.
4. Teach & Model Healthy Emotional Regulation
Teenage emotions can be volatile, ranging from furious to sullen and all points in between. During adolescence, the amygdala, the emotionally-driven part of the brain, is still developing. For this reason, emotional regulation can be difficult. Emotional regulation is the ability to manage one’s emotions appropriately. However, when dysregulated, it can be the hallmark of many common mental health disorders. Identifying and communicating your feelings to your teen is a great model for emotional regulation. Additionally, talking with your teen about recognizing the emotions of others, understanding the expectations of their environment, and learning when to express and suppress emotions to support their goals are great tools in guiding your teen to learn and practice emotional regulation.
5. Early Intervention is Key
Learning coping skills early on can help teens manage life’s ups and downs. Find out if your child’s school has a curriculum around coping skills and mental health support. Additionally, finding a psychotherapist for your child if they are approaching distress can also be helpful. As a parent, avoiding the clear signs that your teen is in pain instead of handling the issue early on can have negative consequences. Don’t wait until the suspension, the call home from school, or the alteration that significantly impacts your child’s future. Talk to your child about support options. Many teens are open to psychotherapy and find the non-bias space supportive and helpful during their teen years to cope with social interactions and pressures.
If you have questions, need additional support, or want to talk with someone about your situation, please reach out to our caring team anytime.
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Atkins, J. (2022, August). Counseling Today. Responding To the Youth Mental Health Crisis In Schools, 26 - 34.