Teenage Mental Health: What We Need To Understand
One of the major changes experienced by a teenager is puberty. Guiding our teens through puberty whilst doing what we can to protect their mental health is far from straightforward, as much as we endeavour to do our best. Adolescence is a transformative stage of life where our teens begin to experience new ways of feeling, thinking and behaving which can, at times, lead to confusion and feelings of overwhelm. Though the process of discovering who they are can bring a plethora of emotions as they navigate through a burst of rapid change, it is a critical development stage that can be challenging for youngsters and their caregivers too.
By truly understanding the nature of these life changes, our ability to adapt, parent efficiently and connect with our children will strengthen. With this approach, we not only empower ourselves in our mentoring roles, but we will empower our kids to confidently step into the adult version of themselves with self-awareness, unconditional self-love, acceptance and curiosity.
Puberty is a time of exciting change and growth as adolescents transition from childhood to adulthood. However, as the various physical, emotional and psychological changes take place, it’s important to be mindful of how the release of hormones that affect brain development, growth, sexual development, arousal, and mood can impact the mental health (Puberty, 2021) of teens too.
Whether male or female, adolescents will be acutely aware of the various physical changes to their bodies such as body shape, height and hair growth. Closely observing these changes, assessing or being conscious of their evolving appearance, falling into the trap of comparison or having concerns about things like acne and weight gain, is all part of being a teen (Kids Health, 2022) as we know all too well. As a result, puberty can be a time when things like anxiety, depression, and eating disorders manifest, so try to encourage healthy communication with your child to alleviate any emotional stress or uncertainty they may be feeling. By encouraging them to positively embrace this pivotal moment in time and express themselves in healthy ways, it is more likely your teen will develop a positive self- perception and a deeper level of self- compassion with respect to the changes that are taking place for them. Simply providing a solution is often not what they are looking for. Being there to lend an ear or offer beneficial suggestions from a place of experience is sometimes all it takes. If you’re ever in doubt, or you find yourself questioning your approach, seek out experts that understand this stage of development and some of the challenges that arise during this phase. This will empower you as caregiver and allow you to be able to be able to connect with your teen from a place of understanding.
In the midst of all the physical and emotional change, it’s important to remember that their bodies aren’t the only thing experiencing change, their mind is too! It is important to remind ourselves that the part of the brain that is related to decision-making is still developing (NCBI, 2010). This explains why young people may seem to express heightened emotions and their behaviour can sometimes seem impulsive or risky. This is because the brain’s capacity to think things through prior to acting is still ‘under construction’ - and so, as parents, we must do our best to equip ourselves with understanding, and exercise patience during these times, within reason of course.
During adolescence, the emotions we feel (such as anger, sadness or joy) are seemingly more intense and more difficult to cope with than in other stages of life. You can offer emotional support as well as the development of your child’s thinking in a variety of ways. Remember, your approach as a parent will differ from others, and there is no perfect way. The important thing is to encourage positive behaviour in order to strengthen positive brain connections and beneficial outcomes.
Here are some methods that may resonate with you.
- Allow your teen to step outside their comfort zone. Introducing a variety of experiences inspires your kids to develop a positive self-image, explore what it means to be a grown up, and strive towards independence.
- Encourage your child to discover new creative and expressive outlets for their emotions. Your teen might be repressing and trying to control strong new emotions. Perhaps they could start a new sport or hobby? Or perhaps they find peace through journaling or mindful meditation which helps to regulate their emotions, lower stress levels and promote self-esteem.
- Calmly talk through daily life decisions step by step with your teen. Ask about possible courses of action they might consider and talk through potential consequences. Encourage them to weigh up positive consequences or rewards against negative outcomes and, of course, determine what the big picture will look like.
- Incorporate family routines to offer structure and consistency. These might be based around school and family timetables. Perhaps you talk about your daily highlights at the dinner table, or take it in turns to tell a joke. Whatever it may be, find what resonates and connects you together.
- Provide healthy boundaries and opportunities for negotiating those boundaries. Adolescents need guidance and limit-setting from their parents and other adults in order to navigate their own decisions.
- Offer genuine praise and positive rewards for desired behaviour.
- Be the example. Your behaviour will show your child the behaviour you expect - but of course, you need to demonstrate what that looks like.
- Remain open and approachable in order to stay connected to your teen. Talk with them about their development and what is taking place. The more knowledge offered, the better. Understanding this important period of growth might help them process their emotions around what is transpiring for them.
Adolescence is a beautiful chapter of self–discovery that should be cherished. We are essentially working out who we want to be, who we identify with, and what we believe and value. It is the time we feel the need to explore different attitudes, beliefs and behaviours as a vital part of our growth and understanding of the world.
Of course, through the inevitable trial and error that comes with personal transformation, not every decision our teens make we will agree with. But it’s helpful to remember that this exploration phase is a vital part of growth and becoming an empowered and capable adult. Having this perspective can support parents through this journey, and help them reduce anxiety when it comes to our natural urge to rush in and protect our children. This is particularly relevant when we sense fear or want to help our teens move more smoothly through a significant life challenge. Can you relate?
The spark of social change and innovation often emerge from teenagers' drive and eagerness to discover new facets of life, push the boundaries and explore the possibilities available to them. Testing the limits and taking risks goes with the nature of adolescence. and understanding and accepting this can often help manage your own worries and fears. It is important to remember that we are all hard- wired for connection and while being there vs giving your teen space may be a balancing act, consistent communication and connection truly is the key. The challenge is to encourage your kids to make their own choices and try new things (even if that means making mistakes) as you make a conscious effort to remain supportive, connected, and emotionally available for when they need you.
Parenting is no easy feat, but you are not alone. Ensuring we are not only supporting the mental health of our teens but nurturing our own mental wellness is absolutely vital. If you or your teen are looking for some direction around finding balance, peace and self- empowerment on your wellness journey, we invite you to try our Empowerment Series today. Comprised of over 60+ empowerment practices using meditation, mindfulness, positive psychology, subliminal strategies, you can begin your wellness journey now. Get started today or try our mini series, completely FREE at iswara.life
The role of puberty in the developing adolescent brain (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3410522/)