Renate Engelbrecht
Content producer
4 minute read
3 Mar 2022
12:28 am

Teenagers and mental health: How to help them protect it

Renate Engelbrecht

One thing that has been exacerbated by the effects of the Covid-19 is the mental health crisis playing out among teens and children.

Teenager mental health. Image: iStock

According to a statement that was issued by the American Academy of Paediatrics, together with two other children’s health authorities, the rate of mental health challenges being experienced among children and adolescents has been soaring, with “youth of colour disproportionately being affected.” In fact, it has been declared a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health.

This problem goes beyond the borders of the United States, though. Donna Du Plooy, an Educational Psychologist from Stellenbosch, says she is seeing the same situation playing out among teenagers and children in South Africa.

As parents, we often feel ill-equipped when it comes to guiding teenagers – let alone guiding them amid difficult issues like mental health. Donna shares some expert advice for parents of teens to help them guide their children through this unpredictable and challenging time:

Connect, connect, connect

We often get so caught up in the business of life that we often neglect to truly connect with our children. It is vital to be available to your child and to listen carefully when they have something to say – even when it seems unimportant to you. Create a special time with your child where these kinds of conversations can happen naturally – whether it’s every evening when you tuck them into bed, or a regular afternoon walk around the neighbourhood.

“Try to start this practice at a young age so they learn to trust that they have the time and space with you,” says Donna.

Don’t escape the topic

Be open and honest about mental health with your children. The stigma can be crippling and therefore normalising conversations about it, is important. Talk about it like you would about physical health.

Connect with your teenager and talk about mental health
Connect with your teenager and talk about mental health. Image: iStock

Teenagers often live two lives

Parents who grew up in a different generation often struggle to understand, but you need to remember that your teen has both an online and an in-person life. For teens, there is no separation between their online and in-person lives and therefore parents shouldn’t downplay the importance of their children’s online lives.

Make sure that you have good parental filtering apps like Bark on all devices. Also, talk to children about social media and its risks and dangers from a young age. Monitor your child’s screen time and online activities and also bear in mind your own online engagements and screen use.

READ: Non-intrusive online monitoring app protects kids and guides parents

Spot the mental health symptoms

When you are concerned about your child’s mood or if you notice a change in behaviour, don’t ignore it. It is a tricky business, though as you don’t always know which behavioural changes are due to puberty, and which are due to mental health issues. There is a lot of value in talking about what is ‘regular hard’ and what is ‘not supposed to be this hard’ so that teenagers are able to recognise the difference and know when to ask for help.

They say it takes a village and any parent would know that it is true. You don’t have to figure the situation out alone. If you are worried about your child, there are many professional psychologists like Donna who would be more than willing to assist. She says you should never ignore your child’s request to see a therapist. She also suggests that you check with your medical aid what they offer in terms of mental health.

Portray positive mental health behaviour

The healthier you are as a parent, the more capable you are to model and take care of your teenager’s mental health. If that means that you need to get help for your own anxiety or depression, then share those steps with your child – don’t hide it. They need to understand the importance of it.

In the end, a close, connected, available relationship between parent and child is what protects children. Donna says: “This relationship offers children a soft landing, a safe landing when they really need it.”