As the number of months of the pandemic dragged on, all of us struggled to maintain a positive outlook. This was challenging to say the least for everyone, but for adolescents, it was even tougher. Because social development looms large during these years, social isolation can have detrimental effects. As a result, paying attention to mental wellness in kids is important the longer COVID lasts. By knowing telltale signs of distress, and by using a few key techniques, teen mental health can be better protected. These efforts can make all the difference in the world.
In recent surveys, those reporting feelings of loneliness has increased significantly. Roughly, a third of Americans describe frequent feelings of loneliness, which is notably increased. Of these, adolescents are among the most vulnerable, especially if they’re prone to anxiety and worry. Visits to the emergency room for severe anxiety or distress is up a full 25 percent among teens this year. Suicide thoughts and acts of self-harm are increased too. Understanding this, it’s essential to adopt some best practices known to improve mental wellness in kids. With this mind, the following are 7 tips known to promote better teen mental health.
Make Yourself Available and Listen
As a general rule, anyone dealing with stress, pressure, or anxiety can benefit greatly from simple expression. If your child is struggling with social isolation, one of the most important things you can do is to listen. This promotes teen mental health by allowing them to communicate how they feel and specific issues they have. The key, however, is to refrain from offering solutions or suggestions. Unless solicited, it’s best to simply hear what they have to say while being attentive and engaged. This is a good exercise for promoting mental wellness in kids of all ages.
Be Empathetic, Open-Minded, and Reassuring
In addition to listening, it’s also helpful when parents try to put themselves in their teen’s shoes. Remember what it was like when you were going to high school. Now consider all the additional stresses like social media bullying and the threat of COVID on top of that. In doing so, you’ll be able to empathize with their struggles and keep a more open mind about what they’re experiencing. And of course, offer words of support and encouragement. This goes a long way in promoting positive teen mental health.
Provide Structure and Balance
For nearly the last year, the pandemic has robbed us of the familiar structures that we previously relied on. This is particularly true for adolescents who find themselves taking online education classes and practicing social distancing. Though it’s not quite the same, providing a scheduled routine and other structured activities can boost mental wellness in kids. This can help fill the void of other routines that no longer exist and provide a sense of stability and control. Teen mental health is more likely to thrive when these measures are in place.
Model Good Mental Wellness Behaviors
We all need good role models from time to time. Therefore, you can also promote teen mental health and wellness by modeling good habits and behaviors. (Read more about how to keep good habits after the lockdowns are over in this Project Bold Life story.) When it comes to mental wellness in kids, lifestyle choices can make a difference. Diet, exercise, sleep schedules, and relaxation all influence mental resilience and well-being. If adolescents see their parents adopting healthy behaviors in these areas, they’ll be more likely to do so as well. As a result, they’ll be better equipped to deal with pandemic stressors.
Build Teen Resilience
One important strategy to build mental wellness in kids is to improve their ability to be resilient. While this can involve many activities, one way is to help adolescents identify things they can and cannot control. This is particularly helpful during the COVID pandemic since we are all trying to negotiate the challenges present. By learning to accept what we cannot control and change the things we can, we naturally become more resilient. This too can help boost teen mental health through self-empowerment.
Get Outdoors and Encourage Exercise
One of the ways to improve teen mental health is to encourage outdoor activities. Especially when many of us are spending a lot of time indoors, getting outside can be liberating. Exercise is also linked to mental wellness in kids as well as adults. (Learn more about the connection between exercise and mental well-being in this Project Bold Life story.) For many adolescents who previously played scholastic sports, their absence can be depressing. So, even if the weather isn’t perfect, arranging some safe outdoor activities for your teen can have a positive effect.
Keep Promoting Online Social Activities
At this point in the pandemic, Zoom calls and online courses might seem like a real drag. Despite their ability to help us connect, they’re not the same as socializing in person. But when it comes to teen mental health, they continue to be better than no social contact at all. Therefore, continue to encourage your teen to connect with friends and family on a regular basis via videoconferencing. These types of activities might be doing more good than you know.
When Pandemic Grief Becomes Excessive
One big problem for teens during the pandemic is not being able to label what they’re experiencing. They feel anxious, sad, and stressed perhaps, but these symptoms don’t qualify as an actual mental health disorder. In essence, however, what they’re experiencing is a type of grief. They are suffering many losses associated with their normal lives, as we all are. But because this is occurring at an important time of development for them, the impact can be greater. Therefore, being proactive about teen mental health is essential. By taking advantage of the above tips for mental wellness in kids, parents can help their teens cope well. If these measures fail to work, or if thoughts of suicide or self-harm exist, it’s time to seek professional help. In most cases, implementing strategies to enhance mental resilience and well-being will be enough. And hopefully, these efforts will be enough to help all of us get through the challenges associated with COVID.
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