Childhood and adolescence are extremely important to the development of a person’s long-term mental health & well-being. During adolescence, a child’s brain goes through rapid, accelerated growth & development that helps them develop the cognitive, social & emotional skills they need in order to shape their interaction with society at large.
Assess your environment
First and foremost, the environmental quality of where adolescents grow up plays a large part in shaping their cognitive, emotional & mental health balances. Any early exposure to bad or negative experiences at home(s), school(s), or digital spaces/social media platforms can increase their risk of mental health problems. Early exposures to violence, mental illness of someone in close proximity, bullying, poverty, failure, sexual abuse, prolonged illness & more, can have severe long-term ramifications on an adolescent’s mental health.
Address mental health issues at the earliest
Some mental health problems like childhood epilepsy, anxiety, depression, developmental & learning disabilities, and behavioral disorders, are large contributing causes of mental illness and disability amongst adolescents. Worldwide, 1 out of 10 adolescents will experience a mental health disorder in some form, but most of these cases will go unreported and undiagnosed, with little chance of the adolescent in question getting help. By not addressing mental health problems at the earliest, adolescents run the risk of growing into adulthood with untreated illnesses that could hamper their development in various ways. This could limit the way they are able to interact mentally, physically, socially, and psychologically with the world around them. They also run the risk of having suicidal tendencies from early in life, and suicide among teens is the 4th highest known killer for people in that age range.
By adopting practices that promote positive mental health and well-being, adolescents are led through various methods by which they can function fluently in society, foster important early social connections, gain & maintain positive self-esteem and cope with the ups and downs of life in a healthy way. Some of these practices include the adoption of healthy sleep patterns, the establishment of a regular exercise schedule, the development of coping mechanisms, problem-solving techniques & interpersonal communication skills, and emotional management.
Identifying common mental health warning signs in adolescents
Mental health problems in adolescents cannot be judged by the presence or absence of any particular symptoms, and that is why it can be hard to identify and diagnose these problems in this age group. However, there are some signs that you can look out for in your adolescent, which could help you intervene and provide them with much-needed support. Some of these signs include:
- Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Having low energy or attention spans
- Having difficulty falling asleep
- Spending more time in isolation, while avoiding social activities
- Eating difficulties – which could be eating less or eating more than normal
- Self-harm methods like cutting, burning, hair pulling, and more
- Using alcohol, tobacco, or drugs (that aren’t prescribed)
- Engaging in violent or risky behavior
- Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
- Unrealistic feelings about the world – seeing/hearing things that don’t exist, feeling that other people want to harm them
- Experiencing a high range of mood swings
- Shutting down or retreating into a shell – this can be evidence of physical/sexual/mental/emotional abuse
How can you promote healthy practices in your child?
The promotion of mental health in adolescents and children seeks to encourage mental health development while increasing healthy behaviors and protective factors. This can help in preventing or delaying the onset of a diagnosable mental disorder while mitigating several risk factors that can invariably lead to the formation of a mental health problem.2
By creating supportive environments and positive living conditions, one can help their adolescent maintain a healthy lifestyle. It is important for an adolescent to feel respected in their environment, without worrying about their most basic rights being infringed upon.
Some of the most basic ways to promote mental health well-being in adolescents are:
- Negotiating early interventions – this can be as early as when your significant other is pregnant and making sure their needs are well met, and that they stay away from harmful substances/practices. You can also encourage psychosocial engagement for your adolescent by enrolling them in a reputed preschool, and by fostering early adolescent friendships.
- Building support networks for adolescents – Enroll your adolescent in a skill-building program, or a youth development program. You can take your child to several different activities/workshops/sporting events, and see which one suits them best.
- Psychosocial interventions post-crisis – It is healthy to teach children how to contend with tough situations, by turning crises into teaching moments. Instead of showing an adolescent the worst of a bad situation, you can help them see things in a different light, which in turn will help them learn how to deal with diverse and difficult situations.
- Violence prevention programs
- Creating safe digital spaces
- Encouraging independent behaviors
Teach your child valuable life skills
A number of skills can be learned at any stage in life, however, adolescents have the ability to integrate these skills much faster than adults. These life skills can help in promoting psychosocial engagement within children, which can then turn into learned behaviors that can stay with your child for life.
Communication and interpersonal skills
- Learning verbal/non-verbal communication & social cues
- Active listening, memory retention
- Expressing feelings in a positive manner, giving & receiving feedback positively
Decision-making and critical-thinking skills
- Thinking through the consequences of actions
- Finding appropriate or creative solutions to problems
- Analyzing the influence of values and attitudes about self and others on various topics
- Learning to analyze the influence of society, media, friends & family
- Analyzing how various values, attitudes, beliefs, social norms, and hierarchies affect their lives
Coping and self-management skills
- Nurturing & building self-esteem and confidence
- Inculcating self-awareness skills towards human rights, influences, values, goals, problems, attitudes, strengths & weaknesses
- Goal setting and rewarding completed goals
- Self-assessment -> self-monitoring -> self-evaluation
- Open negotiation, conflict management & resolution
- Assertiveness – refusals and priority-based negotiating processes
- Building empathy, sympathy, trust, and leadership qualities
- Learning to listen & understand others’ needs, environments, circumstances & situations, while expressing this understanding clearly
Advocacy, cooperation & teamwork skills:
- Influencing skills -> Persuasive speech -> Public Speaking -> Networking
- Valuing and respecting others’ contributions, different styles, and various methodologies
- Evaluating their own unique abilities, contributing to the group in whatever way necessary, and working cohesively with others
Skills for managing feelings & stress:
- Dealing with negative feelings like anger, grief, jealousy, and anxiety
- Learning how to create coping mechanisms to deal with losses, trauma, and abuse
- Time management -> organizational methods -> avoiding procrastination
- Forming positive relaxation techniques