What you can do to support your teen?
What you can do to support your teen?
6 min read
You’ve now identified that there’s something going on with your teen. The next question is what can you do to support them? We often hear parents feeling hopeless or unsure of what steps to take after identifying that an issue is present. If you are feeling this way, we want you to know that you as the parent can do quite a bit to support your teen with their anxiety. In this section, we are going to list out five things to think about when it comes to supporting your teen.
Lead by example
Because it’s difficult to know when your teen’s anxiety might be present, being mindful of your own behavior and words can provide your teen the space to be reminded that they are safe and cared for. When their anxiety flairs up, be gentle with them as they navigate getting their bodies back into a safe mode. Speak to them slowly and take deep breaths, encouraging them to do the same. Allow them to talk about what is going on if that feels good, but don’t feel the need to open up if it’s not the right time. You can model being relaxed and calm in the face of whatever is going on with them.
One tip that you can use is to repeat the word “safe” when talking to your teen. Reinforcing that they are safe with language can actually help them ramp down their anxiety and get them back to baseline.
Share your own experiences and coping mechanisms
There’s a misconception that we’ve heard from parents who believe that talking about mental health with your teen can worsen their anxiety. The opposite is in fact true - creating an open dialogue with your teen about their experiences can enable them to open up and begin the important work of developing positive coping skills to manage their anxiety.
Though talking openly about your own mental health can be a big step forward in the parenting relationship, we know that it’s not always easy to talk about your own mental health.
“Be authentic with your teen and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable within reason. As parents, we often are models for our kids and modeling authenticity and vulnerability allows them to share their fears.” - Ahmed Khan
However, we encourage you to share your experience with your teen as it can provide the crucial space and safety for them to be able to open up to you.
How do you personally deal with life obstacles? What has been hardest for you to navigate in your life? Sharing your own lived experiences can help your teen begin to build the language around what they are going through. This is a crucial part of building a strong parent-child bond, and we can’t emphasize how much your teen can benefit from hearing about your own experiences with mental health.
All about problem solving
We all know the saying… “Don’t tell me what to do Mom/Dad!”. When it comes to problem solving, many parents are quick to jump in to solve their children’s problems for them. This always come from a good place of wanting your teen to be safe and taken care of. Unfortunately, this form of problem solving can remove your teen’s agency to solve their own problems and leave them feeling frustrated.
When it comes to mental health, there are no problems that you can solve for your teen. You can help support them, assist them in finding the right resources, and stand alongside them through their journey. But ultimately, your teen must be the one to engage with their mental health on their own terms. We’ve heard time and time again how important it is for teens to feel a sense of agency over how they navigate mental health challenges.
To be clear, there is a difference between supporting your teen as they solve their own problems and solving the problem for them. You can empower them to feel agency by helping them think through what’s they are experiencing, identifying ways they’ve managed similar issues in the past, and brainstorming or roleplaying situations that they might face in the future. This is very different than forcing them to go to a doctor or therapist that they don’t want to go to.
Confidence is the greatest gift to bestow upon a teen. Research shows that problem solving skills are learned through constant iteration and conditioning. By providing guidance where you deem fit, but allowing them space to make their own decisions, you give your teen the opportunity to develop their own internal compass for navigating their mental health. Relinquishing control in this way can feel frightening at first. But if you’re support your teen and allow them to make their own decisions, you might be surprised to find that you and your teen come to the same conclusion about what is best for them - without all of the headache and fighting.
Avoid the common slip-ups
There’s some common misconceptions that we want to address when it comes to supporting your teen. The following tactics might seem good at first glance. However, they actually can do more harm than good.
Ignoring the situation
We know how difficult it can be when your teen is struggling. In that moment, all you want is to help them feel better. It can sometimes feel like the best thing to do is ignore that they are struggling and try to act like nothing is wrong.
First of all, don’t be too hard on yourself - you’re an incredible parent who’s trying your best to support your teen. When it’s clear that your teen is struggling, not acknowledging the issue can leave your teen feeling unseen and alone. Going to them and acknowledging that you’ve noticed some changes in a safe and private way can allow them to open up. In addition, it lets them know that they don’t have to struggle alone and that they can trust you with sensitive information. This is so important and giving your teen the space to acknowledge what is going on can be a huge stepping stone in their wellness journey.
Don’t wait to get the support your teen needs
There are so many resources available today from psychiatry, psychology, counseling, mentorship, and more. While navigating the mental health and wellness landscape can be a challenge, there is support out there for whatever your teen is going through. We talked earlier in this guide about identifying anxiety in your teen. If you are concerned that your teen might be developing anxiety, consult with your pediatrician or another medical/mental health professional as soon as you can. Catching issues early and using preventative support can prevent years of difficulty later down the road. Even if it’s just to ensure that nothing serious is going on, a visit with a medical professional can help you understand what the best next step is to take.
Lastly, emphasize that this does not define them
Teens who are dealing with a mental health concern might begin to self-identify with what they are going through. A teen might say “I’m anxious” instead of “I am dealing with anxiety”. Though subtle in language, each of these statements has a significantly different power when internalized by a teen. A teen who believes that they are an anxious person might never take the steps necessary to understand their anxiety. In addition, developing a self-identity around anxiety might lead a teen do diminish their own self-worth and prevent them from living the life that they want.
It’s important to remind your teen that the challenges that they face do not define them. In addition, remind them that their currently situation is in no way a reflection of their worth, value, and stature in the world. The more often you can remind them that they are loved, have worth, and are more than their challenges, the more likely they are to believe it.
In this section, we talked about some of the things that you should think about when it comes to supporting your teen with anxiety. Next, we want to outline the landscape of options available to support your teen if you decide that they need more support than you can provide them.