The pandemic has been especially hard on teens’ mental health. A StatsCan survey in May 2020 found that 27% of 15-24 year olds were experiencing moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety. This is significantly more than the 19% share among 25-64 year olds. Teens have suffered from:
- closed schools, and
- not taking part in regular sports or after-school activities.
How can you have a healthier relationship with your teen?
Earlier this year, Sun Life hosted a webinar on youth mental health and the importance of opening the conversation. Moderator Karleigh Darnay, Community Health and Education Coordinator at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health set the tone in her opening remarks. “The incidence of mental health concerns has grown fastest among young Canadians than any other groups.” The panel included Nick Nurse, head coach of the Toronto Raptors, and a trio of mental health advocates.
Watch the whole webinar here, ideally with your teen. You’ll hear heartfelt stories of mental health struggles and coping strategies.
Make sure your teen knows you care
Caring for your teen’s mental health includes making sure they know you’re there for them. You can help set your child up for success, during their teen years and into adulthood.
In this article, find 5 tips to support your changing relationship with your teen:
1. Keep the communication lines open
A formal heart-to-heart can feel awkward for you and your teen. Why not try a more casual approach? Johnny Lo, a child and youth mental health therapist at Youthwise in Richmond, B.C., suggests engaging in daily conversations. Try talking while on a hike, or as you’re doing the dishes.
The conversation may turn to more difficult topics, like bullying. Marina Louis is a registered social worker and therapist at the Toronto Counselling Centre for Teens. She suggests prioritizing empathy over problem solving. It might feel tempting to call the principal to address a bullying problem. Ask your teen instead: how does the conflict make you feel? How does it affect your self-image or identity?
2. Validate your kids and make them feel seen
Teens face many tough struggles. Unrequited love, bullying, anxiety about fitting in, among them. After over a year of isolation, they may be feeling disconnected from their friends. As a parent, it’s more important than ever to step in. You can help build their self-esteem by helping reinforce a positive image.
“Parents should affirm their children on all levels. This includes how they look, how they feel, their intelligence and their abilities,” says Louis.
Validation doesn’t have to feel awkward. It can be a simple “I understand why you feel that way” to empathize with hurt feelings. Or “good going!” to recognize an achievement. Small words of encouragement can go a long way in building your teen’s sense of self-worth.
3. Teach financial lessons early and often
Budgeting isn’t what most teens (or adults!) might think of as fun. But teaching your teen about money is one of the most useful gifts you can give them.
Show your teen you care about their future by setting up a registered education savings plan (RESP). Consider having your teen contribute part of their allowance or earnings to their RESP. They’ll learn about planning for their future and about delayed gratification.
Open discussions on other money topics that your teen will need to know about, like:
- The benefits and potential pitfalls of credit cards
- How student loans work
- Rental agreements
- Anything else you wish someone had told you about money when you were a teen.
4. Offer support, even when you don’t agree
Adolescence gives you a peek into the adult your teen will grow into. But what if you don’t agree with your teen’s vision of their future?
The conversation might feel uncomfortable. Don’t let that keep you from sharing your concerns with your teen, says Louis. To make it easier on both of you, there’s a few things you can do:
- Make it clear that your support isn’t conditional to agreeing with all of their choices.
- Back up your support with an action plan.
- Help your teen pursue their goals by talking it over.
- Include a contingency plan in case they change their mind.
These conversations can bring you closer and create a more adult relationship, she says.
5. Walk the talk
As cheesy as the saying is, “actions speak louder than words.” This is especially true when raising a teen.
“Parents need to lead by example to pass on their values,” Lo says. “Better that than picking up their values somewhere else, like social media.” There are a few things you can do to help lead by example:
- Share the value of healthy living by involving your teen in the family schedule.
- Get your teen involved in cooking meals or organizing active family fun.
- Instill generosity by volunteering as a family.
- Demonstrate the value of planning by talking about your own financial plan. You can show your teen how planning helped you get to where you are.
No parent is perfect, but being a consistent role model shapes core values. These values help your teenager develop a strong sense of self. This empowers them to make better decisions. Is there any better measure of success for parenthood?