I am often asked what I think is causing the current high level of mental health issues in our teenagers and is the current “epidemic” real or manufactured by the media and society. I think it’s a mixture of both.
On the one hand, I think that today’s teenagers are facing a wealth of challenges that previous generations haven’t faced. On the other hand, as parents we somehow feel it’s our responsibility to make our kids happy all the time and take away all their pain. It’s not and we can’t; it’s an impossible task and we should give up trying. Having challenges and difficulties is a normal part of growing up and they will only emerge as a mature adult once they have learnt to navigate life.
Here are some beliefs that I think we need to foster in our kids to combat some of the challenges that society is throwing at them:
1) Emotions are a normal part of being human. You will sometimes feel sad, angry, lonely, frustrated, etc. This is normal, it doesn’t mean you need have a mental illness. However, it might mean that you benefit from the support of another human being - a friend, a parent, a neighbour, maybe sometimes a professional such as a teacher or a counsellor. Or maybe you need to nurture yourself, do your favourite thing such as listening to music or playing sport.
2) Life doesn’t always give you what you want when you want it. Being used to waiting - saving up for that new bit of kit, waiting until tomorrow to speak to your friend, watching that video after you’ve done your homework, will massively help you to have the patience that you will need to get through life.
3) Being rich and famous doesn’t make you happy. In fact, there’s masses of evidence that it does the opposite. Just think of all the famous people who have talked about their mental health problems or taken an overdose. Those who are truly most content know that the most important thing is what goes on in your head. Do you say nice things to yourself? Or is there an inner critic constantly eating away at you. Do you seek out genuine friends (however geeky they are) or do you hang out with the “cool” crowd in the belief that it makes you a better person.
4) Having a “perfect” body never made anyone happy either. And the most attractive trait is an authentic smile on your face, radiating from being comfortable in your own skin.
I know that list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a start. So how am I doing on these in my own parenting? Not too bad on some of them, but I’m not sure that I’ve found effective ways to teach the delayed gratification idea yet….any tips anyone?