Reports abound that this generation of adolescents is experiencing anxiety and depression at unprecedented rates. What gives?
"With kids, what's really hard right now is social media," said Heather Lacy, LMSW, at Forest View Hospital in Grand Rapids. Kids essentially post their life's highlight reel online—it's the good stuff. For adolescents, this can create a feeling of isolation or never being good enough.
"Everything is comparison. That's impacting kids' self-esteem."
Another concern: Social media factors into the bullying uptick. "It's so much easier to say something mean behind a screen than when you're looking someone in the eyes," said Lacy.
Kids are also exposed to myriad information via the Internet and television, which may provoke anxiety. Adolescence is the childhood to adulthood transition, when we determine who we are.
"Kids are exposed to so many things that they could possibly be," Lacy explained. "Because of that they're having a hard time figuring out, 'Oh, this is me!'"
WHAT'S A PARENT TO DO?
Keeping kids on lockdown and away from screens entirely is a losing proposition. Lacy suggests parents limit kids' time and exposure to all screens, and talk to them about the difference between what they see on those screens and reality. If you implement screen time limits, expect pushback. "That's what adolescents do," Lacy said. "But in the long run, it's going to be more beneficial for them.
It's important that parents engage with adolescents in other ways, like taking a family walk or playing a game. "You have to go that extra mile as a parent."
In addition, it's important that parents listen to their kids and validate them. "This doesn't mean you agree with them," explained Lacy. "It means you hear them." Let your kids vent, without trying to fix their problem. Sometimes, they simply need to be heard.
Adolescence is when many kids start dating. This can be a time for positive growth and learning about relationships. Unfortunately, notes Tara Aday, Director of Prevention & Education for Safe Haven Ministries, 1 in 3 adolescents will experience a form of dating abuse before they turn 18. "Dating abuse is more common than bullying, more common than gang violence, and more common than mental health issues or depression."
To get ahead of the curve, don't wait until your kids start dating to begin conversations about healthy relationships.
"Talk to your kids early about what healthy boundaries are and the power they have to establish their own boundaries," Aday said.
"It's much harder to change normalized behaviors or ideas about relationships if you wait."
DON'T FORGET PHYSICAL WELLNESS
The physical component of wellness is important, too.
Lacy uses the acronym PLEASE to describe how kids can stay physically healthy.
If you don't feel well physically, you won't feel well mentally. Take care of colds and see a doctor when you don't feel well.
"When you eat like junk, you feel like junk," Lacy said. Kids will want pizza and that's OK, as long as the overall focus is on balanced nutrition.
AVOID MOOD ALTERING DRUGS.
Both street drugs and prescribed drugs taken inappropriately can be used as coping mechanisms. Neither is healthy.
Lack of sufficient sleep, which could be up to 10 hours a night for some kids, can affect their mood, their grades and how they interact with others.
Kids don't have to run a 5K.
"Just get out and take your pet for a walk," suggests Lacy. "It doesn't have to be excessive."
FEBRUARY: TEEN DATING VIOLENCE AWARENESS MONTH
CONSIDER THESE STATISTICS.
- Almost 1.5 million high school students each year experience abuse from a dating partner.
- 1 in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
- 3 in 4 parents have never talked to their children about domestic violence.
RESOURCES TO HELP YOUR CHILD STAY SAFE.
Safe Haven is a great local resource:
- Safe Haven Hotline | 616.452.6664
- Safe Haven's Friends and Family Seminar | safehavenministries.org/events/seminars/
- Invite Safe Haven to speak at your child's school, youth group or other gathering.
National Abuse Dating Hotline | 866.331.9474 | loveisrespect.org
WMW EVENT: WINE DOWN "YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH: EMOTIONS MATTER"
February 21, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. | CityFlats Hotel, 83 Monroe Center NW, Grand Rapids
From warning signs to resiliency, our expert panel will identify mental health concerns facing youth today and offer insight and resources
Kirsetin Morello is a Michigan-based author, speaker, writer, travel-lover, wife and grateful mom of three boys. Read more about her at www.KirsetinMorello.com.