By Michael Klinkner
Talking to your teenager about, well, anything can be difficult. But, talking about mental health can be even more challenging. It is a touchy subject and it can hit close to home for both you and your teen.
While there isn’t really an easy way to bring up the subject, the reality is more than 22% of young people between the ages of 13-18 will experience a mental health issue every year. Making sure that we as parents keep an open dialogue with our teens about these issues is critical. Even if your teen does not experience a mental health concern of their own, their friends might. Talking with your teen may not just help them, you also model how they should talk with their friends about mental health.
Here are 5 tips for having a productive conversation about mental health with teens:
- Be genuine. Teens can see right through an adult who is “faking it.” If you are feeling uncomfortable in a discussion with a young person, admit it. Say something like, “This is hard for me to talk about, so I totally understand if it’s difficult for you too.” It’s okay to talk about your own experiences with anxiety or depression, but then make sure to also to talk about what you have done to effectively deal with those challenges.
- Be careful about the language you use. It is easy to use judgmental or demeaning language when talking with a teen about mental health. Be sure to use appropriate words for what you are talking about. It is okay to say “anxiety” instead of “worry” and it is okay to say “depression” instead of “feeling down.” Also, be prepared to talk about suicide and self-harm. Those topics come up a lot with teen anxiety and depression. Your teen has likely been exposed to someone who has at least thought about suicide, and they probably know someone who is self-harming.
- Silence is okay.Your teen may struggle with putting thoughts into words. That’s okay and absolutely normal. You may ask a question that they had never thought about before. Don’t feel a need to fill in the silence. I tell parents all the time, “Don’t turn on the lights just because you are uncomfortable with the dark.” Be patient and stay in the uncomfortable with your child.
- Be intentional with the setting you choose. I am a big fan of having these types of conversations while in the car. There is no expectation of eye contact, with music on it is not completely silent, and if you are running errands together you can hit pause on the conversation while you go into stores. This strategy can decrease the pressure of a heavy conversation.
- Validate their feelings.Whatever your kids are thinking or feeling about the topic, make sure to validate their emotions. You don’t necessarily have to agree with – or understand – their feelings to validate them. Ask clarifying questions if you need to better understand where they are coming from. But, most importantly, make sure they feel heard.
The more often we have conversations about mental health, the easier it gets. Keep in mind you are not going to have just one conversation with your teen about this subject. You are going to want to bring the topic up again and again and again. That way, your teen will feel invited to talk about tough mental health topics if – and when – issues come up.
Michael Klinkner is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Neurolinguistic Programming. He is also certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Klinkner provides individual, group and family therapy to children, adolescents and adults and is part of Evolve Counseling and Behavioral Health Services in Central Phoenix and Gilbert, Ariz. Klinkner focuses on treating a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, trauma and ADHD. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, visit https://www.evolvecounselingaz.com/ or email info@evolvecounselingAZ.com.