The science is clear: parents play a major role in helping youth/teens shape attitudes and behaviors, as well as navigating mental health, substance misuse and other problem behaviors. When your child is struggling with their mental health or is engaging in problem behaviors, it can be tough to know what to do.
Unfortunately, there is rarely any single “silver bullet” approach to raising healthy, well-adjusted youth in today’s society, but there are plenty of strategies that can help. Here are some preventative parenting tips for supporting the health and wellbeing of your child/teen.
1. Talk to Your Kids Early and Often
A strong and open relationship with a parent can be one of the most influential protective factors in adolescent decision-making. Conversations with your teen should be organic; try leveraging a news story or situation occurring on television to start a conversation.
2 Check How You Communicate
Making changes in your communication style or speaking habits, if necessary, can be tough, but will improve your teenager’s ability to listen. Strategies that rarely work and often lead to worse results include: preaching; sarcasm in correcting behavior; ridicule; put-downs; yelling and screaming; comparing the teen’s behavior with more successful peers; and not being able to admit when you are wrong or say you are sorry.
Keep important conversations with teens short. A good guideline is to stay under five minutes and to stick with 2-3 talking points. Encourage continued dialogue to keep up with the evolving challenges faced by your child.
3. Create a Positive Environment
It’s virtually impossible to mitigate all the risks that are present in young people’s lives today. However, parents can create a positive environment and relationships with youth that will help them avoid these challenges.
4. Be a Good Listener
Avoid trivializing any discussion topic with your child; every conversation you have with them is vital in creating strong emotional connections. Be authentic in your listening and listen to understand. Take a moment to respond with a summary of what your child said.
5. Be a Good Source of Information
Establish yourself as a trustworthy source for information by sticking to facts and avoiding fear-based responses. Research tells us that fear-based messaging is ineffective among teens, so focus on the positive!
6. Understand the Adolescent Brain & Emotions
Emotional ups and downs make teen years difficult. Teens may struggle with controlling their emotions and being unable to verbalize how they feel. Empathy, listening, and offering support are important. Avoid statements that send a message to “snap out of it”, such as “everyone feels that way.” Instead, help your teen to understand changes that are occurring in their body and brain, while supporting and building skills to be more successful and resilient.
7. Set Clear Rules and Expectations (Model Healthy Behaviors)
The best method of ensuring youth follow rules and engage in positive behaviors is by modeling the behavior you want to see from them. This applies to family, school academics/sports, and society as a whole. For example, you are going through some significant stress at work and you’re worried that you might lose your job. To cope with these issues, you go home and drink a bottle or two around your teen. No matter what you say, you are sending a message to your teen that using alcohol is how adults cope with stress and anxiety. Instead, find some healthy and positive coping mechanisms that work for you and your family.
8. Support Relationships with Trusted Adults
Unfortunately, as youth enter adolescence they often rebel and detach from their parents. This is why it is vital that parents/guardians encourage their child to develop connections with trusted adults in their lives. A trusted adult can be a neighbor, coach, teacher, family member, clergy, counselor, mentor, or caregiver. Trusted adults make a child feel safe, heard, and believed in, and can help young people maintain good mental health, build their self-esteem, and avoid problem behaviors such as substance misuse. Teens need at least one trusted adult or mentor in their lives to help them navigate life.
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