How Do I Know if My Teen is "Okay?"
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
I have some great news! You are STILL the number 1 influence in their lives. You may not believe me, but it's true.
Parents don’t always believe this – in a Parents Empowered survey, parents placed themselves last in the line-up of influences on their children – after friends, teachers and media. But when the youth answered the same question, they placed their parents first – before family, friends, teachers, and activities/clubs. Research shows that there are 3 things parents can do to protect children from risky behaviors: bonding, boundaries, and monitoring. The stronger the relationship between parents and their children, the more the child will not want to disappoint the parent.
Anxiety has increased for the majority of people since the COVID-19 outbreak: 57.2% of people report higher levels, and only 6.9% say their anxiety levels have declined.
79.5% of those newly homeschooling their children report increased anxiety since the outbreak compared to 53.9% amongst other parents.
We are ALL feeling the struggle of striving to keep good mental health but the factors aren’t always in our favor.
We are whole people, not divided into mind, body and soul but integrated; therefore when we suffer with a mental health issue, not surprisingly it means every part of us will be affected. However a mental health problem is not the same as a spiritual health problem. In Jesus’ day, the division we see between mind and body in today’s society, did not exist.
I have suffered as well from symptoms of anxiety and depression since this COVD-19 world has emerged. At the beginning of summer I faced some of my most difficult challenges and darkest days. Thanks to some amazing prayer warriors, being in the Word, and lots of prayer, I now feel as though I am on the other side of this struggle.
But for MOST of us, the world is still full of uncertainty. How much longer will we have to endure reduced capacity? How much longer will we be relegated to mask wearing? How many licks ARE at the center of a Tootise Roll Tootsie Pop?
Though we cannot know the answers to all of these questions, one thing we know for sure: this is a new way of life for us and our kids, and they need help navigating the issues they face. For many teens, COVID-19 restrictions may have launched feelings of anxiety and depression, or even exacerbated existing mental health concerns. It’s vital that we take the time as caring adults to help them to sort through their feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
Teens are readily identifying with culture through songs like "Be Happy" by TikTok star Dixie D’Amelio who are admitting "Sometimes I don't want to be happy/Don't hold it against me/If I'm down just leave me there/Let me be..." What she is communicating is "It's ok, to not be ok" but without really giving any Hope for change.
She “says: I wanted to share the honesty of this message with others, especially those around my own age," Dixie said in a press release. "I remain so grateful for the people that surround me and the opportunities I’ve been given, but some days, as we all know, it’s not easy to be happy. My hope is that anyone who listens can be reminded that it’s okay to feel what we feel. It’s okay have a bad day. We all have them and you are not alone."
Part of the reason our teens gravitate towards this type of music and these lyrics is because of the vulnerability and transparency of the artist in baring their soul. We as parents can learn from this. Learning to share our lives in appropriate ways and teaching our teens to be open can be healthy way to build a bridge in our relationship with them. This is a precarious balancing act of transparency without oversharing and becoming the parent/adult who complains to their teen about “the ex”.
Gen Z uses humor, and sharing trauma on their socials (usually SnapChat or stories becauseit disappears) to cope with their anxiety or depression often spinning it to sound more lighthearted than it actually feels. This is evidenced through D’Amelio’s blunt lyrics contrasted by the light and upbeat music.
Part of the reason our teens are failing to communicate is that many well meaning people respond with statements like being told that they are told they are to “have more faith”, “pray harder”, or “give it to God more”. While these aren’t bad or even incorrect statements, sometimes there is more to the story and the process is more complex.
The layer of mental illness I would like to untangle is that of a situational type. In other words, pre-Covid, your teen exhibited signs of good mental health but you have noticed a decline in their enthusiasm or involvement since February or March when the shutdowns began.
If your teen has a history of depression or anxiety that they have shown or talked about pre-covid, let me say it is important to take them serious and to get them help as soon as possible. Trained Christian counselors with their Masters in adolescent behavior are much more likely to be able to help than traditional pastor counseling alone. On the other side of that, don’t be as quick to medicate your teen as some family physicians are in the habit of doing as well.
Since we have seen a sharp rise is teen mental health since this Pandemic began it is important to know how we, as parents, might be able to help them. Below are a list of questions that may help start the conversation. Talking to your teen in a safe space will help them to open up but understand that it shouldn’t just be a “one and done”, keeping the conversation going is important so that you can continue to monitor their good mental health.
Too many times when it comes to our kids or even our spouse we want to do everything we can to take away the pain. This can be particularly tricky due to GEN Z’s need for independence and deep needs to be what they perceive as self-sufficient. SO rather than just throwing a platitude in their direction, help them communicate their struggle, and then rather than trying to “fix it” for them, help guide them to what you feel may be the more appropriate ways of dealing with these struggles.
Here are some good questions to get yourself and your teen thinking about the issue of mental health. We pray these questions bring about healthy conversation and deepened relationships.
How has your family addressed mental health until now? Has it been a focus in your home previously, or is this something you’re learning more about now?
How have you reacted to whatever has happened in your childhood or in your family of origin?
Where and with whom does your teen feel he/she “belongs”? What evidence do you see of this in his/her life and in your family’s life?
Have you seen a change in this idea since the beginning of COVID-19 quarantines? Yes, even though it was over 24 months ago, these changes are STILL affecting how our teens process things. (How have those things impacted your teen’s ability to connect and feel he/she “belongs?”)
What barriers do you feel prevent you from understanding your teen? Can you think of some ways to connect those gaps with your teen?
What are you doing for yourself in terms of self-care? Do you struggle to find time and space to take care of yourself?
Great Books for Reading:
Whole Identity by Dr. Jerome Lubbe
The Whole-Brain Child by Dr. Dan Siegel
No-Drama Discipline by Dr. Dan Siegel
The Soul of Shame by Dr. Curt Thompson
Anatomy of the Soul by Dr. Curt Thompson
The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk