World Teen Mental Wellness Day
Since today is World Teen Mental Wellness Day I thought I’d shine my little light on the subject…at least a little bit. It’s a tough subject, I know. Super complicated really, but it is so important. It’s not always easy to spot the signs of a teen’s mental health. Honestly, I think a lot of us miss the signs until they basically punch us in the face. It’s almost like when they were babies and we had no idea why they were crying. We’d have to go down the list and check off what it wasn’t until we got to what it was. Remember that? Man, those days were exhausting. We figured it out though, didn’t we? We learned to read the signs. We learned that if they were rubbing their little faces and eyes, they were probably tired. If they were rooting or chewing on their hands, they were probably hungry. If they were pulling at their ears, they probably had an ear infection. My point here is we learned to read the signs and that’s what we have to do now as they get older. We NEED to learn the signs. As teenagers, they have reverted to not being able to communicate with us like they once could. We spent all of this time teaching them how to talk to and then all of a sudden it just stops. I think this is normal, but I am no expert. Our teens are desperately searching for freedom, privacy, and independence and that can turn into shutting us out. They haven’t figured out that they can find themselves and figure out their own beliefs while still taking advantage of our support system. These teenage years are tough and having an ally through is crucial for both the teens and the parents.
So what are the signs? Well, as I’ve said, I am no expert, but here are a few things I have learned over the years –
●More quiet than usual – When a teen starts spending the majority of his/her time isolated there may be an issue. I am all for alone time because I think we all need it from time to time, but spending most of your time alone, away from friends and family, isn’t necessarily a good thing. If I notice one of my children becoming quiet, I start the conversation. They may not feel comfortable bringing something to me. Maybe they don’t know how to start the conversation. Maybe they don’t think they want to talk to me about it or they can handle it on their own. It may take a little while to get to what is going on, but don’t give up. Don’t be too demanding either. There’s a balance here that we need to be considerate of. Be gentle and be understanding of their need to not talk at any given moment. Sometimes you may need to take some time before approaching again. Maybe try from a different angle. Teens can be very guarded and very stubborn when trying to be independent. Sometimes I find that my teens do not want my advice and that is why they don’t want to talk, BUT if I just give them someone to listen to them they will open up. Sometimes I ask if they want advice or just someone to listen. I can be either because if they are talking they are working through whatever is weighing them down, even if I never say a word.
●Moody – This may come as a shock to many parents of teens because let’s face it, teens are moody, BUT there is a difference between teen moody and mental health moody. Is your teen moody with everyone or just his/her parents? Is school noticing? Are friends noticing? What about coaches? Pay attention to what you are hearing or what you are seeing when your teen interacts with others. Teen moodiness with parents is VERY normal, but sad, aggressive, and anxious behavior across the board is another story.
●Self-esteem issues – If you notice your teen’s self-esteem taking a dip it’s time to check-in. For me personally, I found my once confident and out-going child becoming very anxious and feeling not good enough for anything.
●Grades slipping – If your A/B student starts bringing home Cs, Ds, and Fs there may be a problem. Check-in with teachers and the guidance counselor. Having input from others in the school setting will help you determine if there is a real issue or if maybe your teen is just struggling academically right now. We all go through phases and sometimes it’s just a phase, but sometimes it’s more.
●Spending less time with friends – Some teens do not have a ton of friends while some have more friends than you can count. Either way, if you start noticing your teen not spending time with those he/she once spent all of his/her time with, there may be an issue. Ask your teen what is going on; why you haven’t seen Billy/Becky for a while. Maybe they just had a fight and they are working through it. Maybe there is a real issue. Either way, showing you care and starting the conversation is a good thing.
●Changes in sleep pattern – Teens stay up all night and sleep all day, so this one could get weird, BUT if your teen starts to change when they are sleeping or how often it might be worth it to keep an eye on it.
●Complaining of headaches, stomach aches, or body aches – Obviously, we want to make sure that there is nothing wrong with our teens (kids in general), but if it is a constant complaint and the doctor cannot find anything wrong you may want to think about this a little more. Start taking note of when they are complaining of these aches. Is it happening right before school or while at school? Is it happening before practice or while at practice? Is it happening before coming home or while at home? Is it happening before seeing a certain person? Sometimes these aches have very little to do with a virus or pulled muscle and are very much symptoms of something else going on. It’s important to know that even if this isn’t something their doctor can diagnose and send an antibiotic in for, they are still feeling this and it is very real to them.
●Withdrawing from normal activities – If your teen comes to you and wants to quit their passion in life it could be because they have outgrown it or because they have lost their passion as they know it. If it’s the first, okay, that’s fine. We all outgrow things. If it’s the second, dig deeper, please. Find out why they are walking away from something they have always loved.
●Abnormal behavior – On top of all the other abnormal behaviors I listed, be on the lookout for anything that seems off for YOUR teen. Maybe you notice more reckless or aggressive behavior. Maybe you notice more head hanging low or sadness. Maybe you notice that your teen is just being a teen. Regardless, just keep an eye out.
With all of that being said, this isn’t as simple or black and white and it is written above. No, this is complicated and will look different for each teen and parent. All I want to do with this post is to shine some light on the topic and get parents thinking. We need to look out for and care for our teens just as we did when they were babies, but with a little less hovering. We want them to learn to be independent and confident and the best way to do that is to give them a great support system. Know the signs. Know when to step in. Keep the lines of communication open, even when it’s hard. The teen years are complicated. Not only for the teen but for the parents. Hug your teens, tell them you love them, and tell them you are proud of them. Deep down they are still your baby and they still look for that unconditional love and support from you.