Navigating Teen Mental Health: 3 Things Every Parent Needs to Know
Mental health advice plus video Q&A from reader driven questions with Embark Behavioral Health
Mental health concerns among teens and young adults have increased significantly over the past ten years, warns a recent study by the American Psychological Association. If you’re a parent of a teenager — or of a child who’s about to hit those formative years — you may feel overwhelmed navigating this tumultuous age. But you don’t have to navigate it alone.
The team at Main Line Parent recently hosted a wide-ranging Facebook Live interview with Rob Gent, the chief clinical officer and a founding member of Embark Behavioral Health. Gent fielded numerous questions from the Facebook audience about how to have mental health conversations with your children and teens. Today, he sits down with Main Line Parent again to share three key things every parent needs to know about their teenagers’ mental health and happiness.
1. Watch For Telltale Signs Your Teen is Struggling Emotionally or Psychologically
Surveys show that most parents never talk to their teenagers about their child’s mental health. And even parents who think they’re paying attention often don’t know what to watch for — one study found that parents and teenagers were in agreement about the teen’s emotional and psychological health only 2% of the time.
“We tend to look for overt and extremely obvious behaviors associated with emotional and psychological distress,” says Gent, “yet we can look for more subtle indicators within the relationship between us as the parents and the adolescent.”
Gent says we should all be watching for:
- Eye Contact
- Receptivity to safe touch (e.g., hugs, high fives, etc.)
- Maintaining close proximity
- Congruence of affect (i.e., their body language and emotions match what they’re saying)
- Receptivity to empathy
When your teenager is struggling with the above, they may be having a hard time feeling safe, secure, or accepted by their parents. This may contribute to worsening mental health, and Gent says that teens may turn to unhealthy coping strategies like substance abuse, social isolation, or being glued to excessive screen or Internet time.
2. Set Healthy, Safe Boundaries With Teens Who Are Struggling
You love your teenager, and this can lead to some parents feeling unsure of what to do with a child who is aggressive, abusive, emotionally unstable, or struggling with other mental health problems. Your love means acceptance, but it must also involve setting clear boundaries that keep you and your family safe.
“Reliable and consistent boundaries which apply to each member of the family is essential in developing a predictable and knowable foundation for emotional, physical, and relational safety,” says Gent. When you make it clear that these rules are for everyone’s emotional, physical and relational safety, you make the home and your role as a parent a place of security and safety for everyone (including your struggling teenager).
Equality is key. “When boundaries are not grounded in emotional, physical, and relational safety, and created to be applied just to one member of the family, then we have created inconsistency and that is unsafe,” Gent emphasizes.
3. Co-Regulation is a Vital First Step to Your Teenager’s Self-Regulation
As parents, we want our teens to thrive and be able to regulate their emotions and how those emotions are exhibited. “We often put the cart before the horse,” says Gent. He points out that parents and caregivers must also be part of the co-regulating process to create the foundation for your teen to feel secure and safe enough to regulate themselves.
This is why Embark’s approach focuses on the Commitment, Acceptance, Security, Attunement (CASA) framework.
“We all need to experience commitment, acceptance, security, and attunement from a reliable caregiver to neurobiologically create healthy emotional, physical, and relational development,” explains Gent. “This interpersonal process is what creates a healthy sense of Self where self-worth, resiliency, and self-efficacy take root.”
When you, as a parent, are able to live and communicate within the CASA framework, you create an environment that facilitates healthy attachment for your teen. And that, in turn, fosters better self-regulation, healthier brain development, and improved psychological and emotional mental health.
Intrigued by what you just read? Embark offers a unique approach to teen mental health, plus the resources you need to bring lasting, sustainable change to your child and family. Learn more in Gent’s 60-minute interview with Main Line Parent. Watch the recap to discover how to have mental health conversations with your children and teens, and learn how to ask for help with Embark.