As a mother to a teen girl and a leader of a nonprofit that’s helping our Black and brown girls navigate this pandemic, I see daily the importance of prioritizing the emotional wellness of our children. As parents, we must provide the tools, community, and support systems to help maintain our teen’s mental health and wellbeing for them to overcome challenges and thrive.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges we’ve all been facing, and teens are feeling the fear, strain of uncertainty, and the stress of competing at school, work, and extracurricular demands more than ever.
“When You make space for teens to self-advocate for their personal needs, You create an environment where they feel safe and confident enough to use their voices and articulate their desires.”
They need help, but sometimes youth lack the skills and opportunity to communicate their needs. You can start by creating space for this at home. In recognition of Minority Mental Health and Awareness Month, here are some tips and best practices for parents to continue supporting teens’ mental health and wellness.
Foster a safe, non-judgmental space that inspires your teen to share what’s on their minds
Our Black and brown children are often looking for an opening to express themselves. You must keep at the forefront of your mind that youth voices matter and their experiences are real and valid. If you create an environment where kids believe their perspectives don’t matter, they may find it difficult to share their deepest concerns with you. You have to model for your children that you care, and show them what active and respectful listening looks like in conversation. They can carry these skills from home to school.
You can create the opening by asking specific questions about their day (for example: “How was class today with teacher X?” versus “How was school today?”). Asking more specific questions can help get to the core of what may be pressing or heavy for your child at that moment. Welcome and encourage frequent dialogue for your teen to express themselves to you. The more you keep an open mind, the more it builds a trusting relationship.
Encourage your teens to focus on the things they can control, even when life feels unpredictable
Help your children to identify what they can control in their lives. This includes helping them understand how to break down larger blocks of homework into smaller achievable goals, structuring manageable schedules, especially if they are engaged in multiple school and extracurricular activities. It can be simply directing them to keep their personal spaces in the home organized, as well as helping them ensure that family spaces and tasks are organized as well.
Show them that we also have control of taking care of our minds and bodies. This can be as simple as eating the healthiest food available, incorporating physical activity into each day, and getting consistent sleep — specifically, eight to ten hours of sleepper night as experts have long recommended for teens. Integrating routines will provide consistency to help keep teens’ mental health in check. These organizational skills not only provide structure but also help alleviate stress to maintain your teen’s mental health and wellbeing. It prevents young people from becoming overwhelmed when all of their “to-dos” come at them at once.
Encourage teens to practice self-advocacy and ask for help from adults and their peers
You can aid your teen in developing the skills and confidence to advocate for themself at school, out in the world, and at home. Being able to express their needs and desires is essential to them feeling valued. Asking questions and creating space for teens to first identify and then share what they are feeling, or what they need, helps them to feel as if they have a little more control over their experiences. I also have to spend more time listening to see how my daughter is working through challenges, instead of being so quick to offer solutions.
When you make space for teens to self-advocate for their personal needs, you create an environment where they feel safe and confident enough to use their voices and articulate their desires. In turn, this empowers a confident parent, equipped with the skills to be in dialogue with their children while honoring youth voices.
It’s been a tumultuous 16 months, and we need to make sure that our kids can recover. As a parent, it is imperative to create adequate spaces and support systems for your teen’s mental health and wellbeing. You can start some of the work to create spaces at home, but you’ll need every participant in your children’s learning ecosystem — schools, summer learning programs, youth-serving organizations, parents, families, and communities — to play a part in the recovery process so your children can reach their full potential.