Quick Tips For Talking To Your Teen About Mental Health
If you ask your teenager if they’re okay, you may get a quick “yes” with no further elaboration. Even if you ask them how they are, you may get a “fine” or even a “good.” If you and your teenager have not previously had open communication about mental health struggles, or difficulties in general, it can be incredibly difficult for you to know how to ask them and it may be equally as difficult for them to open up to you.
This does not mean that you are doing a bad job as a parent, nor that your teen is defiant or dishonest. Conversations about mental health can be hard to have, especially with your child. It may bring up feelings of guilt, shame, or fear for you. As parents, we want to take the best care of our kids as we can, and when it comes to their mental health, so much of it is out of our hands and that can feel really scary.
The fact that you are here and reading this post is evidence that you care about your teen and their overall wellbeing. You are wondering how you can dig a little deeper into what your teen may be going through. Maybe you have noticed that your teen isn’t quite acting like themself, perhaps they have been isolating themselves more, or you have observed changes in their sleeping and eating habits.
Regardless of what the reason is, you are here seeking answers on how to talk to your teenager about their mental health. Here are a few tips that might be able to help.
Teenagers are very intuitive. Our kids know when we are feeling anxious or nervous about things. If you try to ask them questions about what they are experiencing without being vulnerable yourself, they might not feel comfortable opening up. Naming how you are feeling, even about asking, can be incredibly helpful in building trust with your teen. Even something as simple as “I’m nervous and this is hard to talk about, but I want you to know that we can talk about the hard things too.”
Use Open Ended Questions
As you have found, asking straightforward questions has resulted in one-word answers from your teen. Being curious and open towards your teen will allow the opportunity for them to open up to you. Reflect to your teen what you have noticed to communicate to them that you see them. Simple statements like “I’ve noticed you’ve been in your room more” or “I’ve noticed you haven’t been spending time with ____ lately” and “I wonder if that might be related to anxiety or depression?”
Your teen may have just needed someone to listen. As parents, we may go into fixing mode instead of support mode. Our teen may not need solutions to their problems, but simply the emotional support you can provide through listening. Ask if they are looking for solutions or support?
Don’t Take it Personally
If your teen doesn’t open up to you at your attempts, this doesn’t mean that they don’t love you or feel supported by you. They may feel more comfortable talking about their struggles with someone outside of their family - and that’s okay. Let them know that you are there for them in whatever capacity they need. Offer to help them find a therapist/counselor that they would feel comfortable seeing.
Remember that having conversations about mental health can be ongoing and open. This conversation that you had with your teen does not have to be the only or the last. Most of all, know that you and your teen are not alone, and that there is always help available.