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The Incredibly Important Role Parents Play in Teen Mental Health

group of teenage girls standing in a field making heart signs with their hands

Adolescence: the dreaded life stage for caregivers. Anticipating mood swings, risk-taking behavior, and endless arguments. Teenagers are learning their place in the world, discovering their own identity, how they fit into society, and asserting their autonomy.

While some of these issues are normal for teenage development, adolescents are more at risk for developing a mental health diagnosis. Parents play an extremely important role in teen’s mental health, and can be the most influencing factor to how well teens overcome their diagnosis.

Parent-Teen Connection

Building and maintaining relationships is key to understanding and helping teens through difficult times. Setting aside time to bond, whether that’s watching tv or doing a pleasurable activity together, can create a safe space for the child to share about challenging situations or emotions.

Caregivers who sit with their teens and encourage them to talk about the emotions experienced will help teach them how to identify and regulate emotions on their own. Parents can also help them form connections between their thoughts and behaviors, and why perhaps they act out in the way that they do.

Self-Esteem

Another way parents influence their children is through their self-confidence. Teenagers form thoughts and opinions about themselves based off of how their caregivers respond to them. For example, if parents tend to be critical about appearance or performance, it’s more likely that the child will be harder on themself and have lower self-esteem. Having a poor self-image will only increase other mental health symptoms.

It is important for parents to reinforce strengths, encourage autonomy, and praise effort with overcoming obstacles. Avoid being overly critical and focusing on what they did wrong. Instead, help teens see their potential, how they can improve, and how to accomplish goals.

group of teenage girls standing in a field making heart signs with their hands

Consequences

With parenting comes the difficult task of discipline. It is a delicate balance between wanting to teach children about consequences, but not wanting to over-punish. Natural consequences are bound to happen, such as a child making the decision to stay up late on a school night, then getting in trouble by teachers for poor performance and lack of focus.

This is an opportunity for parents to connect the emotions felt with the decision that was made. A conversation about the importance of sleep will help educate the child better than a punishment.

Sometimes a natural consequence is not an option. During these times, ensure that discipline is specific to the behavior, time-limited, and focused on the desired outcome. There is such a thing as being too strict with discipline. Punishments can correct behavior. However, if used too frequently, they can make the teen feel like everything they do is wrong.

With a mental health diagnosis, teens may act out or misbehave. It can be tempting to want to punish, but try communication and understanding why the behaviors are occurring in the first place.

Physical Health

Maintaining physical health is equally important when overcoming mental illness. Promote a healthy diet and exercise. Try cooking meals at home rather than ordering takeout. Go for walks or take workout classes with your child. Help them get at least 8 hours of sleep and create a bedtime routine.

Children learn by watching their caregivers, so it is important that you practice what you preach. Do not shame your child for not wanting to exercise or eat right. Doing these things can be difficult when battling mental health. Instead, encourage and lead by example. Make the healthy activities fun and invite them to have a say on what they do.

Counseling

One of the best things you can do for your child is encouraging them to seek help from a mental health professional. It is important to create a safe space for your child to heal, but it may be easier on your teen and yourself to have them speak to someone about their presenting symptoms. Reach out to learn more about the benefits of teen counseling.

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Green Heart Therapy provides in-person psychotherapy for adults, teens, and children in Los Angeles and online therapy across California.