Parents have long been concerned about their teens’ mental health. Before 2020 and then accelerating afterwards, there has been a sharp and disturbing rise in teens experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression. By 2021, the CDC reported that more than half of high school girls felt chronic sadness and hopelessness. But a new report just out from Harvard University’s Making Caring Common, suggests that parents need to worry about their own mental health as well.
The report reveals the startling fact that parents are suffering anxiety and depression at much the same rate as their teens. This is a cause for concern both because of the parent’s suffering and because it can impair their ability to support their teen.
Making Caring Common explains:
“But serious, enduring depression or anxiety in parents is linked to academic, emotional, and physical troubles in children. This harm can also be compounded when both a teen and one or both of their parents are depressed or anxious, and our data indicate that teens who are depressed or anxious are far more likely to have parents who also endure these troubles. While parents and teens can be helpful to each other in these situations, they can also derail and wound each other in all sorts of ways.”
Making Caring Common
Research has shown that parents who are suffering their own mental health challenges can feel depleted and therefore be critical, irritable, angry or unpredictable with their children and teens. While this paints a challenging picture for both parents and teens, Making Caring Common offers a series of constructive, actionable steps parents can take to support their teens and show self-care towards themselves.
5 steps parents can take to support their teens and demonstrate self-care
1. Listening to teens
Teens want to feel seen and heard by their parents and caregivers who can serve as an invaluable sounding board. Many teens in the survey, who did not feel able to speak openly to their parents, turned to friends and peers for advice. Parents can reclaim this essential role in their teens’ lives by listening carefully without rushing to judgment or offering quick solutions. The report found that teens simply want their parents to listen.
2. Helping teens cope with anxiety or depression
parents can help their teens, and themselves, by becoming educated on the signs of depression (which may not manifest as sadness but rather as fatigue or anger or some other behavior), its causes, and constructive things they and their teens can do to alleviate some of the pain. Parents need to learn to distinguish between depression or just feeling down and when a teen or parent needs to seek professional help (see Dr. Lisa Damour).
3. Promoting parents’ mental health
Like the old story of putting your oxygen mask on first before helping others, parents need to take care of their own mental health in order to provide teens with the help they may need.
4. Guiding parents in talking with teens about their own mental health struggles
Parents need to reveal their own struggles to their teens for two important reasons. First, children and teens need to be assured that their parents’ emotional struggles are not in any way the fault of the child. Second, parents can help destigmatize such feelings by talking about their own experiences.
In deciding when and how to talk about their emotional struggles parents should consider several factors, including their child’s age and whether certain kinds of disclosure will be frightening to their child, and they should assure their child that they are taking steps to take care of themselves.
5. Helping teens cultivate meaning and purpose
Parents can help their teens by steering them towards activities that involve engagement with others and create meaning and purpose. This can be sports or A SCHOOL BAND or community SERVICE where the teen feels part of a larger organization AND GOAL and has a sense of belonging. Helping in the community is something teens and parents can do together giving them an important sense of shared purpose.
For further information and more in depth details about this important report go to Making Caring Common. You will find a wealth of information focused on teens and their well being.
More Great Reading:
Harvard Making Caring Common: How to Support Your Teen’s Mental Health