All of us as parents are so grateful that our teens will finally be able to go back to school in a few weeks.
This means that they may learn in the proper setting, spend time with their friends and do what teens need to be doing to develop and grow.
So, this is a good time to check in about their mental state as summer ends. It’s also a good time to talk about what’s in store as the world reopens, but the Delta variant may continue to cause more interruption and change.
Remember that the last 15 months of homeschooling and lockdown has taken a toll on your teen. They may have become quite frustrated about not being in class, not seeing their friends, feeling isolated, resenting Zoom, and now having to catch up on lost learning as we have all fallen behind the world in high school education. This is even more concerning given the fact that globally, the U.S. stands in the middle of the pack on science, math, and reading scores.
Here are just a few things to look for in your teen that may motivate you to engage in a helpful conversation with your teen:
- Their eating habits have changed
- Extreme moodiness or hostility
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Lack of enthusiasm or motivation in or outside of school
- Sexual confusion or shifting gender identity
- Persistent sadness or tearfulness
- Feelings of hopelessness or guilt
- Joking or talking frankly about death or suicide
When you do engage in this needed conversation, here are a few helpful hints:
Empathize with your teen.
This isn’t easy for them. When your teen talks back, it’s not always easy to be empathetic. However, showing that you understand and respect their space and needs will build a trusting relationship.
Use the Platinum Rule.
You already know it’s important to “be there” for your teen. We all know the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you’d like them to treat you. But empathy relies on the Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want (and need) to be treated.
Set aside frustrations and judgment.
Whether your teen is short with you, or recounting a situation at school that makes you raise your brows, you’re going to have an emotional reaction. Responding with empathy means putting that aside and giving your teen space to sort out their feelings without your input.
That doesn’t mean you have to bury your feelings. It also doesn’t mean you have to agree with your child or accept bad behavior. It just means you need to be patient and open-minded to seeing the situation through their lens.
Remember that it’s OK to feel upset, angry or frustrated with the situation.
Just don’t transpose these emotions onto your teen as they have their own feelings to deal with.
When the situation comes to a head, take a time-out. You can say, “I’m finding it hard not to raise my voice and it seems like you are, too. I think we both need to take some time to cool down. I’m going to step away, but I’ll be back when I’m calmer and better able to listen.” By doing this, you’re also modeling self-control and self-awareness.
Be mindful of jumping into fix-it mode; while that might make you feel better, sometimes your teen just needs an empathetic ear and validation.
Pay attention to nonverbal cues.
Kids often give nonverbal cues about how they’re feeling or what they’re struggling with. It’s important to be sensitive to those cues. For example, depressed teens sometimes withdraw socially. Do a check-in on their friendships and the mental state of their friends.
Don’t just assume. Ask.
It’s also just as important to ask about what your child is feeling and needs. Giving kids a chance to talk and explain their point of view helps them feel heard. It also gets them involved in identifying and naming their problems and brainstorming solutions.
Practice unconditional love.
Unconditional love means that you aren't offering love that is dependent upon your teen meeting certain conditions, like doing well in school or being an “easy child.” It means you love your teen through hardships, mistakes, and frustrations.
And remember, unconditional love includes healthy boundaries — it doesn’t mean you need to accept bad behavior.
Remember: You need to be present and here for your teen so they can be here for themselves. Sometimes, teens need therapy, medication and help. Stress and depression are real and deserve real remedies. Don’t hesitate to call 211 for help.
For more information, please visit our Resources page and browse the ABD blog, filled with lots of actionable tips for dealing with the difficult and stressful parts of teen life. Call us anytime for assistance.
All my best,
President, a brighter day charity
P.S. I'd love to have you at our upcoming events:
5TH ANNUAL GOLF TOURNAMENT, a terrific day of sunshine, golf, and philanthropy, on Friday, August 20th at 11:00am.
VIRTUAL GALA, an exciting evening full of entertainment, music, live speakers, virtual door prizes, a silent and live auction, and much more! This event is happening on Sunday, November 21st at 4:00pm.
All funds will go toward increasing teen mental health awareness throughout the East Bay. Come join us!