Promoting good mental health in adolescence
Studies show a strong link between the quality of parent–teenager relationships and young people’s mental health. Healthy family relationships might reduce the chances of your child experiencing mental health problems.
Your support can have a direct and positive impact on your child’s mental health. Here are some ideas to promote your child’s mental health and wellbeing:
- Show love, affection and care for your child.
- Show that you’re interested in what is happening in your child’s life. Praise his good points and achievements, and value his ideas.
- Enjoy spending time together one-on-one with your child, and also as a family.
- Be there for your child. Encourage your child to talk about feelings with you. It’s important for your child to feel she doesn’t have to go through things on her own, and that you can work together to find solutions to problems.
- Deal with problems as they arise, rather than letting them build up.
- Talk to family members, friends, other parents or teachers if you have any concerns. If you feel you need more help, speak to your GP or another health professional.
Physical health is related to mental health. To help your child stay emotionally and physically healthy, encourage your child to do the following:
- Keep active – physical fitness will help your child stay healthy, have more energy, feel confident, manage stress and sleep well.
- Develop and maintain healthy eating habits.
- Get lots of regular sleep. Quality sleep will help your child to manage a busy life, stress and responsibilities. For more information, you can read our article on sleep for children: 12-15 years.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol.
Alcohol and drugs
As children go through adolescence, they might experiment with alcohol and drugs. These are a major risk factors for the development of mental health problems in some young people. These substances can also make existing problems worse. You should encourage your child to avoid drugs, and be careful not to provide opportunities for him to drink alcohol.
Alcohol and drug use might also alert you to a possible mental health problem for your child. If you know your child is using drugs or alcohol and you’re worried, talk with your child. Also consider speaking to a health professional or counsellor.
Signs your child might need help
It’s normal for children and teenagers to sometimes have low moods, poor motivation and trouble with sleeping. It’s not always the sign of a mental health problem. But if you do notice any of the following signs and they persist for more than a few weeks, it’s important to talk with your child. The next step is to get professional help.
For children younger than 11 years, warning signs might include:
- seeming sad or unhappy much of the time
- a drop in school performance
- ongoing worries or fears
- problems fitting in at school or getting along with other children
- aggressive or consistently disobedient behaviour, or repeated temper tantrums
- sleep problems, including nightmares.
For children 11 years and older, watch out for your child:
- seeming down, feeling things are hopeless, being tearful or lacking motivation
- having trouble coping with everyday activities
- showing sudden changes in behaviour, often for no obvious reason
- having trouble eating or sleeping
- dropping school performance, or suddenly refusing to go to school
- avoiding friends or social contact
- making comments about physical pain (for example, headache, tummy ache or backache)
- being aggressive or antisocial – for example, missing school or stealing
- being very anxious about weight or physical appearance, weight loss, or failing to gain weight as she grows.