Raising children is the greatest and hardest job you will likely have the privilege of doing through our lives, and yet there’s no textbook, no entrance exam, no yearly assessment reviews. And as our children reach milestones, we know, no matter how messy, we are succeeding. But as development milestones like first words and first steps give way to other firsts, like first days of school, first best friend and first big fallout with friends, parenting becomes more complicated. And it can be harder to see where we’re winning as our children mature into what can be considered mini-adults.
As our babies reach their tween and teen years, however, it is essential to remember that these young people are in fact, not mini-adults at all.
Adults have the benefit of fully developed bodies and brain. They have the benefit of hormonal balance that has, for the most part, reached maturity. They have the greatest benefit of all — hindsight. They are able to put things into a non-self-centric perspective and react accordingly.
With it being Mental Health Awareness Week and May is the month of Teen Self Esteem, is a great time to review what we as parents can do to encourage our teens’ and tweens’ positive mental health, which is important at the best of times and essential in the unprecedented times we are all living through.
What can we do to encourage positive mental health and create an unbreakable bond with our tween and teen children:
- Connection over correction – Let’s be honest, a larger percentage of the time, as adults watching our children’s behaviour and HOW they complete tasks is baffling at best and enraging at times. But if we’re not careful, we run the risk of only actually speaking to our kids to correct their behaviour: don’t slouch; hurry, up; slow down; don’t stamp; take your shoes off at the door; why have left this here, when you could just put it away. And while there is space for guiding young people to do things in a certain way, they need the time and space to try, to fail and to self-correct. This goes for chores, social interaction, boundary setting, you name it. The important part for us as parents is to be there either to guide or to assess where things went wrong and help them find ways to improve what they do next time. If they feel they’ll be judged or punished every time they get things wrong, they may hide their mistakes to avoid being chastised. Conversely, in order to empower our young people, allowing them to problem solve without taking over is incredibly important.
- Communicate – The best way to ensure they’ll come to us when they need help is keeping channels of communication open. This may take many forms that look nothing like talking. Find moments to connect with your teens individually as well as time as a family, small moments of purposeful connection daily. This may be carving out 20 minutes before bedtime every night to do a bit of lego (yes, lego is not just for little kids). It might be getting out nail varnish to chat over doing toes. Or it might be walking the dog together for half an hour. Whatever you’re into, find time to open up those lines of conversation.
- Space to play – Once kids get to secondary school, the time to play, to be silly, to be active just for fun, diminishes exponentially. Gone are schoolyard games of tig or pick up football after lunch. Their homework load increases. Their responsibilities mount. Many have extracurricular clubs and activities and life starts to feel a lot more serious, a lot more of the time. But even adults need to find time to play. Play brings us joy, relieves stress, augments our potential to learn, can make us more productive and gives us a chance to connect to the world and people around us. So grab a frisbee, jump in muddy puddles or have a nerf war. It may feel frivolous to have fun, but it’s just as important as setting a chores list.
- Be the example you want to see in them. We are talking about incredibly perceptive creatures, who are learning how to cope with their own big emotions by watching their parental examples. In the words of my own tween, “Sometimes you [parents] have to put kids first, but sometimes you have to put you first because you rub off on us.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Please do share in the comments ways that you are helping to support your tweens and teens mental health during COVID-19.