This lockdown has really highlighted the growing mental health problems among young people and children. Most parents have known for a while that the pressures of being young can be tough but adding social media into the mix online bullying, gaming addiction and the plain fact kids don’t have the freedom they once had all go to make a rather negative mix. However, it really isn’t all bad because there are things parents can do to help and support the mental well being of kids of all ages so here is a simple guide to some positive steps all parents can take as well as some handy sites that might help too.
For the purposes of this article young people covers children of all ages up to 18 and even into university age. Mental health and well being can be fostered at a young age and continued through out the teens and beyond.
Talking and Being Open
One of the big things we can do as parents is to create an atmosphere of openness and being able to talk about mental health. This doesn’t mean chatting to a 5-year-old about depression but it does mean creating a home where being sad is OK, being scared is OK as well as being happy. Creating a space where young boys are not told to “stop crying” or “man up” if they are frightened of something. Sometimes school isn’t fun, sometimes going to football practice might make a child nervous for example…these feelings are important so being able to talk about them is really healthy. It can also be quite positive to say that adults feel sad sometimes too or scared and explain how we deal with it. The challenge with being open like this is trying to make sure, as parents or carers, that we say the right thing. There are lots of very positive UK websites that offer help with this like https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/for-parents/
Encouraging Self Discover and Learning About Mental Health
As young people get older they should be encouraged to explore their own feelings and, if they have concerns about their actions or mental health, to be able to speak to parents as well as look for information on their own. It is crucial they are guided to positive places for this kind of information. Just Googling mental health issues like depression can lead to some bad advice at best, and dangerous information at worst. Sites like Hidden Strength good places to suggest looking, the content is reviewed by professionals and it’s a UK based site which gives confidence to parents it is legit. Be wary of young people getting into a YouTube spiral about mental health and joining Facebook groups, sadly there are people out there offering information to actually enable negative behaviours like self harm so be vigilant and once again…talk about things. If the home is a place where mental health is talked about openly then young people are less likely to explore in secret.
Knowing They are Not Perfect
Mental health can be related to bullying but in a less obvious way young people can take out their own fears and problems on others to help them feel better. It is really important parents appreciate that young people can do the wrong thing and are not perfect. It is the right of a young person to make mistakes, grow and learn. So it is also the job of the care giver to be able to address this and talk about it. The transactional Analysis state of “I’m OK, your not OK” is really common in young people and recognising it from both sides is very useful. If your child is putting others down it may be because they are struggling, and if their friends are putting them down it may be the other way around. The point is, mental well being involves understand actions and reactions and helping young people decipher it all. If a young person is being negative to others is doesn’t mean they are a bad person, it means they may need some support!
Work on Your Own Mental Health
Nothing will cause problems in young people faster than parents with issues of their own. Many parents were born in a time when mental health wasn’t discussed, and people still used terms like “nervous breakdown”. Getting help may not have been an option, but it is now. Having obsessive issues, anger problems or anxiety can change our behaviour and it does affect those around us. Bringing up children with unresolved mental health issues can simply pass on your issues or cause things to express themselves in different ways. As a care giver it really is important to address any issues in order to create a space for a healthy young person to grow. But don’t beat yourself up, be positive and make some changes if you think it will help, you may well find you can fix things you just assumed were “just part of you”.