We all know that parenting TEENS can be hugely challenging as hormones race, and the beginnings of independence mean that peer pressure takes on a whole new meaning. It was ever thus, and OUR parents surely dreaded this job back in their day too!
As a mum of a soon-to-be-teen in today’s world though, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the endless statistics in the press for mental health issues in this age group, and about our responsibility as parents to be able to recognise these:
“Normal teenagers are often moody due to hormonal and physical changes that happen during puberty. However, when mental illness is involved, it may be difficult to differentiate “normal teenage behaviour” from the symptoms of depression, anxiety and other emotional difficulties”.
If we look at the world we are living in, it is perhaps not surprising that these issues are rearing their heads. As adults we find it hard to manage our tech ridden world in terms of emails and being “wired” 24/7, and we know that when it comes to social media or digital games it is often easy to get “stuck”. Our kids meanwhile have never known a different world: to them, creating “selfies” and videos for Facebook & Instagram, or playing intense and all-consuming games on the PS or Xbox is the norm. But it isn’t normal life: social media equals watching others’ lives as a ‘voyeur’ – and indeed having your own life watched over – both of which can be incredibly dangerous for vulnerable teens who are still developing their own sense of “self”.
Meantime whilst we all probably remember it being difficult to switch off from “Space Invaders” or “Mario Kart” in our own days of computer games, if we compare these to the constant bombardment of colours, sights and sounds in today’s gaming graphics there simply is no comparison. If “Space Invaders” on a black and white screen was addictive, then today’s “Fortnite” and “Battlefront” are surely the cocaine of video games…
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
I believe the ideal way to solve any problem is to preempt the situation before it becomes an issue: in this case, to promote mental well-being in our kids and teens from day one, just as we would promote physical wellness. Those of you who remember my post from back in September will know that I thoroughly believe our need to somehow balance out the modern world of tech is what has encouraged today’s interest in age old concepts such as meditation and paleo diets (click here to read more). These are concepts we can introduce to our teens as well. It is vital we help them to understand that we all have mental health just as we all have physical health, and we MUST take care of both. If we are open and honest about this from their early years, the results will be twofold. We will at least start to help remove the stigma around mental health for coming generations, AND we will help our teenagers to put in place simple, daily activities which whilst helping to enhance their mental wellness will also actually be enjoyable…
I teach a series of simple strategies for mental well-being in my stress management courses. By gently encouraging some of these practices in our kids (and practising them ourselves so that we lead by example), we will set them up for better well-being, improved self awareness, and a happier future. All it takes is just a few minutes of time and effort to ensure at least some of these tasks become a part of their daily routine…
MY TIPS FOR TEEN WELLBEING:
1. Starting a journal can be done in various ways: the simplest option is a to keep “Gratitude Journal”. Encourage your kids – whatever age – to jot down 3 things that have made them happy each day. They may like to do this first thing every morning or last thing at night: the choice is theirs. Help them along a little further by prompting with questions such as “what has made you happy/smile today?” What have you done to make someone else happy today?”
2. Practising belly breathing is a great way to calm anxiety as it actually brings the heart rate down and encourages the whole body to relax. It can be done anywhere, and it only takes just five minutes a day to make a difference. Encourage your kids to do this daily: they can choose the time and place they wish to practice and make it into a little “me time”. Beware: it does take patience and practice for anyone who has never really thought about HOW to breathe – click here for a video with step by step instructions AND an audio guide.
3. Regular exercise has long been recommended for improving mental health, and for helping those “happy hormones” to kick in. During the teen years there can be a tendency for even the most active of kids to become a little “lazy”, so it’s important to gently steer them towards whatever form of physical exercise is likely to be most motivating for them. Remember there is a huge range of possible activities to choose from, from football to hockey, dance to ice skating, archery to martial arts… Try to consider your teen’s general interests first. If they like water try swimming, or maybe rowing or paddle boarding. If they are especially peer aware, encourage some of the more “cool” activities such as street dance or skateboarding. If they can be persuaded to be outdoors in nature as well, then this will provide a further boost…
4. Getting out in nature is incredibly powerful for our mental well-being, and once again, is something that many teenagers rarely do. If they hate the idea of “just” going for a walk, then switch things around a little. Suggest walking to the cinema, or take a walk in the woods with the aim of going for a picnic, game of rounders or whatever may entice them. Even if it’s a walk that ends in them sitting with headphones on listening to their fave music then let them be: you may feel that headphones will isolate them once more, but if you can at least connect whilst walking there, why not give them a little “me time” once they’ve arrived – that way everyone gets a little of what they want, (and they will still be out in nature whilst listening!)
5. Connect, connect, connect. If you say these three words to your kids, they will invariably think you are talking about the internet. We need to explain to them that in fact CONNECTION is the exact opposite of what the net offers them, which – more often than not – is ISOLATION. We must find a way to gently encourage chatting and connecting. It is not essential that kids regularly discuss their innermost feelings or their worries at an age where this may feel intrusive, but it is essential that we keep channels of communication open, so that as and when they do feel the need to communicate further the option is there. Chat over dinner, chat in the car, chat before bed – whatever works best for you and your kids. Let them talk about music, films, their mates or (inward groan) their favourite computer games, as long as they TALK. (It is worth noting that if you are aware of a subject that may be causing anxiety, it can often be good to initiate chatting whilst driving so your teen is able to avoid eye contact if it is a subject they find embarrassing…)
6. Practising meditation once daily is scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety. It is a way of quieting the mind, and in today’s age of tech dependency, where our peer-aware teens are surely awaiting the next “ping” or “whoosh” of a reaction on Facebook, or a new level passed on their latest game, their minds are rarely “quiet”. The degree of “buzz” this creates in their heads is surely cause for concern, but I personally believe this is also why meditation has such a powerful effect today. Setting aside just ten minutes a day to allow the mind to become still is the exact antidote we need to balance out this tech overload, and by encouraging our kids and teens to learn to meditate we are truly setting them up for life.
7. Mindfulness and meditation are similar, but not identical. The former is a way of training the mind to be fully aware, fully awake to the present moment: unlike meditation it can in fact be done anytime and all the time. This is surely another powerful tool to counteract the over stimulation that the world (and especially tech) often offers our teens, hence mindfulness courses for teenagers are proving increasingly popular. We can utilise this concept on a daily level too, by encouraging our kids to choose one activity to practice mindfully every day: this is something which will serve them for a lifetime. Whether it’s their morning shower, their walk to school, or eating breakfast, committing to practising one act mindfully at the start of each day is truly relaxing and therapeutic. For more ideas, click here.
8. Considered nutrition is so important when it comes to stress and anxiety: many of our Happy Hormones are produced in the gut, and in addition the majority of our immune system is actually located in the gut. It is not difficult to make small nutritional shifts and changes that can start to make a big difference in terms of stress management, but it can be challenging to change habits. For more ideas on what to aim for and what to avoid, click here.
9. Essential oils are a simple yet effective way to boost mental well-being, and they take no effort whatsoever! If your teen is open to the use of a diffuser then try having one in his or her room, otherwise try using them elsewhere in the home to see how they react. Alternatively just a few drops of oil placed on a tissue or cotton wool near a radiator (where the heat will encourage the aroma to be released) will scent the room, or a few drops sprinkled directly on a pillow may help induce relaxation at night. Encourage your child to choose a scent they like, and feel would be most helpful for the result they want to achieve: relaxation / calm / focus / energising. Oils provide a simple, natural remedy (and if they are using them at home they needn’t feel exposed: no one else need know anything about it). Lavender is great for relaxation; frankincense for anxiety; mandarin or rose is calming, peppermint and rosemary encourage focus, and ylang ylang can be good for aggression and for anxiety. To learn more about how to use essential oils click here. (It is also worth noting that if your teen comes to enjoy the use of essential oils, they can then pop a tissue in their pocket for when they are out and about, and drink in the scents and their power whenever they feel the need…again, noone else need know anything about it).
We all probably feel it would be wonderful to live in a stress free world, but sadly in Real Life this isn’t about to happen. All of us – and our children – suffer stressful situations to a greater or lesser extent, and there is no shame in this: it is simply part of what life throws at us. The first step then is for us as parents to admit to the stresses in our own lives, rather than presenting ourselves as all-invincible: this is surely the best way to encourage our kids to slowly relax into the knowledge that it’s “okay” to feel stressed. Next, we should encourage them to understand that it’s actually GOOD to admit to stress…and that this will always be the first, essential step towards managing it.
If meantime we can encourage our kids to regularly practice at least some of the above tips, we will be providing them with an invaluable toolbox which will allow them to move forwards in life. They will progress in the knowledge that mental health matters, that it’s “okay” to talk about it, and that just as you take vitamins to help physical health and prevent colds and flu in winter, you can “take” Journaling, Breathing and Connection to help your mental well-being and to build a foundation of positivity, calm and self awareness…which together are more powerful than any pill or tablet the chemist will offer you.