Being a teenager is extremely stressful. At an age where you’re trying to find yourself and where you fit into this huge, scary world, there are a multitude of internal and external pressures to juggle. The stress of learning to balance family, friends and school whilst also trying to make life changing decisions around their career and direction can be overwhelming.
As with many things in life, prevention is the best cure. So here are some helpful ways you can begin to educate your teen about unhealthy mechanisms, so that they can avoid them and learn to manage their stresses in a healthy way.
Keep communication open
Communication is vital to staying connected with your child as they grow into a teenager. Although it may be challenging when they push boundaries or rebel against your wishes, try to always keep the lines of communication open with your teen.
No longer sheltered from the distressing realities of the world, teenagers can be prone to episodes of existential crisis. This can come from questioning the way the world is, why life matters, and death. We try so hard to shelter our children from the horrible truths of reality, but don’t think your teenager doesn’t know what abuse is, what eating disorders are, or that others may self-harm, take drugs or smoke underage.
Especially due to the massive growth in social media over the last decade, your teen likely knows far more than you think they do when it comes to the dark side of life and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Starting a conversation with them is the best way to educate them and help them avoid falling into the traps of these destructive behaviours.
Naturally, the best way to have an informed conversation with your teenager about unhealthy coping mechanisms is to be well educated about them yourself. As well as asking for insights into the world your teen lives in, do some research on what the main issues are within their school, age range or within the local community.
Teenagers typically begin to express self-destructive behaviours when they feel overly stressed, anxious, or out of control of their own lives. By teaching your teen to recognise the signs of mental health problems, such as wearing long sleeves constantly regardless of the weather, avoiding food, and becoming isolated or withdrawn, they can also be more prepared to recognise unhealthy behaviours within their friendship groups.
Remember to stay neutral and calm during these discussions, and avoid belittling or shaming anyone who your teenager says is struggling with their mental health. If they feel they can openly talk to you without you becoming angry or judgemental, your teen is more likely to rely on you for support than fall victim to unhealthy coping methods themselves.
Be kind and supportive
Again, there are alot of pressures and expectations your teen is trying to navigate on a daily basis. Whilst they may not seem that stressful to us as adults, try to remain kind and remember that it’s a big step to go from a child to a teenager. All of a sudden, teens are expected to behave maturely and take on new responsibilities, whilst keeping up with their schoolwork, maintaining a full social life and deciding on a direction for their future careers.
It’s helpful to remember the teenage brain is biologically immature, driven largely by hormones and the area of the brain responsible for reckless, emotional and impulsive decision making – the amygdala. How your teen spends their time is crucial to the way in which their brain will complete its development over the next few years.
With unhealthy coping mechanisms having a lasting impact on brain development, it’s important to educate your teenager and help them find healthier ways to manage their stress. Gently encouraging positive behaviours such as exercise, meditation and yoga can be great tools for struggling teens.
Spend time together
Most importantly, be sure to invite your teen to spend lots of time with you and their wider family to reinforce the fact they’re loved and supported. Even if they refuse more than they accept, keep offering and showing up for them when they need you. With open communication and a solid support system, you will be able to educate your teenager about unhealthy coping mechanisms whilst also protecting them from falling into any destructive patterns themselves.