Foster communication and regular check-ins
Life is busy, and most parents will tell you it can be easy to go days without having a meaningful conversation with your teenager. Sometimes this is normal, other times it’s a sign you should make an effort to check in more.
Activities like family dinner, a hike on the weekend, a chance to talk on the ride to school, or catching up over a shopping trip on the weekend—these low-expectation, regular conversations are important. Relaxed, open-ended questions provide your child a chance to open up (and for you to listen) so you can keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in your teen’s world.
Make sure your child is getting enough sleep, movement, and time outside
This one seems like a no-brainer, but getting enough sleep, movement, and time outside are crucial for mental health.
A good night’s sleep is critical for children as they grow. They need around eight to ten hours per night, but some may need more or less depending on their age. Lack of sleep may exacerbate a depressed mood and anxiety disorders in children.
Physical activity has been shown to improve mental health, so encourage your child to find an activity they enjoy and make it a part of their daily routine.
And finally, time spent outside in nature has been linked with lower rates of anxiety and depression (3). It doesn’t have to be a long hike in the woods; even spending 20 minutes walking the family dog around the block can make a difference.
Make sure they’re getting nutrition for healthy brain development
Your child’s brain is developing many different connections during the teenage years. Hormones and other signaling molecules are hard at work, and this means that proper nutrition is doubly important.
Keep healthy, protein-packed breakfast options ready to go, (as this is something many teens struggle with) and try to limit their sugar consumption as much as possible. Avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad” and instead teach them about how different foods make them feel. This way, they’ll be more likely to make healthy decisions when on their own.
Fill in gaps in nutrition with Metagenics Chewable Multivitamin for Kids
Prioritize time to recharge
If you’ve ever overscheduled or overcommitted to something, you’re likely familiar with the mounting stress that seems to make even the tiny things totally overwhelming. Kids are susceptible to this too.
In a time when they’re learning to regulate their emotions, they need downtime to properly process. Make sure they’re not overscheduled with extracurriculars, schoolwork, and/or weekend activities, and that they have adequate free time to spend as they please, or doing things they enjoy.
Limit and monitor screen use
As we integrate more and more technology into our home, work, and school lives, being connected can be a double-edged sword. It can be a fun way to connect with friends and play games, but it can also lead to profound mental health problems.
In adolescents, kids are learning about their identity and where they fit in the world. The constant barrage of media can harm their sense of self-worth, confidence, and self-regulation. Talk to your child about how they use social media and other platforms. Encourage other forms of expression such as journaling, artwork, and talking with friends in person.
Make your home a safe space where your child feels comfortable being open with you
Teens will make mistakes, and they need to know that it’s okay to come to you with anything, big or small.
A safe haven is a place where a teen can be themselves without judgment. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they do, but it does mean that you should try to see things from their perspective and provide support and empathy instead of criticism.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have expectations about their behavior, but you should make it clear you love them no matter what and will always help them. No parent/child relationship is perfect, but making an effort to be more understanding can go a long way.
Get more tips and tricks: Back to School Healthy Toolkit
Pay attention to your own mental health
Children of all ages are incredibly intuitive, and one of the more influential aspects upon their mental health are the behaviors they see modeled in other adults in their lives.
If you’re struggling with feelings of anxiety or depression, there’s a good chance your child has already picked up on it. Rather than trying to hide or ignore these feelings, explain to your kids (in as age-appropriate a way as possible) why you’re feeling this way, what happened, and how you’re addressing it. This can be through professional therapy, lifestyle changes, or other coping strategies.
Having an example of healthy coping behaviors will stick with them long after they reach adulthood.
What to remember
By making mental health a priority, you can set your child up for success both now and in the future. If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, don’t hesitate to reach out to their pediatrician or a mental health professional for help.
Functional medicine is a systems biology–based approach that focuses on the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. This approach often requires working with other health care providers to address mental and emotional health from multiple angles.
To support mental and emotional health, functional medicine practitioners may recommend:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Craniosacral therapy
- Meditation or mindfulness practices
- Nutrition and supplements
- Sleep hygiene
If you’re interested in exploring functional medicine for mental and emotional health, talk to your child’s pediatrician or mental health professional about whether it may be a good fit for your family.