School's Out - 5 ways to Support Teen Mental Health during the Summer Holidays
The summer holidays can trigger many feelings and worries for young people and families.
As well as the excitement that surrounds it, there can also be anxiety around childcare, money and mental health.
This can be exacerbated by social media and our tendency to 'compare and despair' when we get a glimpse into other people's lives.
So how can we help to support teenagers during the summer break?
1.) Encourage and maintain routine wherever possible. The loss of routine and structure can feel destabilising so even one predictable event or activity per day can be helpful. So this may be having dinner at the same time each day, or doing something fun together, even for a very short time. When we lose routine, we lose track of time but even a few constants can help to maintain some semblance of the daily routine.
2.) Understand Teenage Sleep: there is a growing scientific body of evidence that now helps us to understand why teenagers need so much sleep. When we know more we can do more. Here is a link to an interesting article debunking some myths about teenagers being 'lazy' https://www.gold.ac.uk/news/world-sleep-day-2021/
3.) Use knowledge of the teenage brain to support them. Teens tend to react emotionally and it can help to understand the role of the brain in this. Of course this does not mean that we just accept any behaviour - we will talk about boundaries too. There will be times teenagers react big, and it will come as a surprise to them as well as the recipient. Their limbic system (emotional part of brain) is still dominating them, as their pre-frontal cortex (decision making part of the brain) is not fully developed. This knowledge can help us develop empathy and notice when this type of reaction is also upsetting to your teen. This 4 minute video summarises teen brain development really well.
4.) Pick your battles: adolescence is a time of developing independence, which can sometimes cause anxiety or friction in families. It is healthy for young people to want to explore, spend time away from their parents and move towards independence. However, we also want to protect them and make sure they are safe. As parents and carers, it can be helpful to identify your non-negotiables, and what you will and won't be flexible on.
5.) Communicate and Connect: Here are some ideas for connecting with your teenager https://www.verywellfamily.com/things-to-do-with-or-for-your-teen-2609590. Connection is at the heart of all our relationships, and the way teens connect with parents will change as they develop. Some teens say that they enjoy the company of a parent without pressure, and sometimes even just a parent's presence in the same room is enough. It does not have to be anything 'special' or planned, but this is why communication is so important. Simply asking your teenager how they would like to spend time with you, and agreeing a way of making it happen. Clear communication is a highly effective way of preventing relationship breakdowns and ruptures. Setting out clear expectations of your teen and asking them to do the same, can really help to open up important conversations around family rules, boundaries and culture. Every family has their own set of unwritten rules, and it can be confusing for young people. Explicit communication can really help to guide behaviour and remove uncertainty in an already stressful phase of their life.
Thank you for reading,
You can also download my free guide to supporting anxious teenagers here: https://www.drelainesmith.com/supporting-your-anxious-teenager