When you have a preteen or a teenager it can be hard to know what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to their mental health. Is it normal for them to get as mad as they did when they were toddlers when things don’t go their way? Is all that moodiness typical or a sign of a bigger problem? How do you know that they’re really okay when they’re just saying they’re okay?
While every preteen and teen is different, there are some things that hold true for all of them when it comes to mental health. Read on to learn what you need to know to support your preteen or teenager’s mental health.
Big feelings are normal
Preteens and teenagers are people. And, just like all people, it’s normal for them to experience a range of emotions. Often these big feelings may seem exaggerated or outsized to the adults in their life but it’s important to remember that the feelings they are experiencing are valid even if you (or any other adult) doesn’t feel like the situation that is spurring those feelings is a big deal.
Next time your teen is feeling angry, frustrated, embarrassed, or upset, do your best to listen to them express their feelings without offering any judgment about the situation that brought them on. Validate what they are feeling, even if it seems out of proportion to you. They need to know someone is on their team in tough moments.
Managing big feelings is a skill
While experiencing big feelings is an innate part of being a human, possessing the skills to manage those big feelings is not. Managing and expressing feelings is a skill that must be learned and most preteens and teens will need to practice managing their feelings many, many times, before they are able to do so with adult maturity.
Talking explicitly about how to manage and express feelings, modeling the healthy expression of feelings, and providing lots of coaching and support can help your teen develop the skills they’ll need to function well as an adult.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking therapy
Often, parents worry about whether things are normal but don’t seek out additional support because they’re not sure if their teen “really needs” therapy or not. The great thing about therapy though is that it can be helpful to nearly everyone! In past generations, therapy was often thought of as something that only people in crisis need or as a last-resort when parents didn’t know what else to do. Now, therapy is much more socially accepted as something that everyone and anyone can benefit from. If you’ve wondered if your teen could benefit from therapy, don’t hesitate to sign up and find out! If you’re unsure how to navigate finding mental health support, their primary care provider or school should have initial resources for you.
The basics of mental health are true for preteens and teenagers too
Most adults know the mental health basics; that things like eating well, staying hydrated, getting outside, moving your body, avoiding overusing social media, and seeking out meaningful connections can help you feel good and stay well. These basic things tend to hold true for preteens and teenagers as well. Let your kid see you taking good care of your mental health and explicitly call out when you are doing something to support your mental health so that they begin to learn what self-care really means and how to prioritize it.
Parents matter a lot
It’s important for your teenager to know that they can count on you no matter what. Tell your teen how much you love them exactly as they are and make sure your actions back up the words you say. At a time when teens are exploring their independence and often spending a lot of time with their peers, it’s easy to believe that they don’t need or care about you. In reality, that could not be further from the truth — teenagers need their parents’ guidance, support, and love even if they swear they don’t!
When our kids are little we spend a lot of time managing their basic needs. We provide healthy meals and snacks, make sure they take their baths, and offer clean clothes for them to wear each day. As preteens and teenagers they start to take over many of these basic tasks but, despite being tall and independent in many ways, they still really need their parents.
Supporting your child’s mental health as they enter and progress through the teenage years is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Doing so is a big task, and one that can often feel really lonely. You may find you need your own support while going through this process. In fact, some research shows a benefit for teen mental health when parents are enrolled in therapy — a total win-win!
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team