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Tips to Help Parents Ensure Teen Mental Wellness

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By Allison Sundman
Kaiser Permanente Media Specialist
03/21/2024 at 07:28 AM

In recent decades, the prevalence of depression among teens and young adults has risen by more than 35%, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has estimated that 20% of youth, ages 13 to 18, struggle with mental health issues each year.  

Such statistics can be daunting for parents. However, there are several things parents can do to instill habits that promote teen mental wellness. Moreover, they can learn to act as advocates for their teens’ long-term mental wellness and emotional health. Ashely Zucker, MD, a psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente San Bernardino County, shares some tips.  

“Adolescence is a time in life when teens are figuring out their identity and who they are as a person. Often, this involves finding ways to differentiate themselves from their parents and bonding more with their peer group. It’s common for teens and parents to have more conflicts as they navigate the transition from family to peer relationships,” said Dr. Zucker.  

Teens may be at particular risk of mental health problems because they are experiencing new and different emotions that they may not yet be able to fully understand or process. “As a parent, letting your teens know that you are available and willing to talk gives them the opportunity to come to you when they are struggling,” recommended Dr. Zucker.  

Starting connections and conversations when things are going well also creates a foundation for teens to go to their parents when times are tough. Parents’ availability and support can go a long way in helping their teens feel emotionally secure. Security is the foundation of teen mental wellness. When your teen talks to you, be nonjudgmental and listen. While you may have a strong internal reaction, you do not want them to feel like they have upset you or are in trouble for opening up. 

Dr. Zucker shared that one of the most impactful things you can do is model how you manage your own emotions and show your teenager how you navigate challenging times. Articulate when you are stressed or upset, so your teenager recognizes that parents can have tough emotions too. 

One tip that can be extremely helpful for a parent trying to get a teen to open up is to have a conversation in the car while driving or when doing another activity. This takes some of the intensity out of the conversation. When you are not face-to-face, but side-by-side, you may be surprised at how much more willing they are to open up.  

As a parent or caregiver, you have a good sense of your child’s normal behavior. Be sure to contact your pediatrician if you are concerned that your child is struggling with stress or anxiety or if you are worried that they might hurt themselves or someone else. Your pediatrician can help determine if underlying health conditions or medications may be causing mood problems. They can also connect you with other health professionals, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker. Visit your trusted medical professional to learn more about mental health resources.