Most would agree that teenage years brought with them moments of awkwardness, shyness, social pressures, and at least a few moments of humiliation we would rather forget. But what is it like to go through those challenging years of development for the current generations? With growing pressures of school, social media, societal focus on appearance and an increasingly complicated world to navigate, it is unsurprising that young people now face the highest levels of anxiety, depression, self-harm and hospital admission for mental health difficulties for generations.
Young people today face pressures and juggling acts for which they are not fully equipped much of the time. As they face typical developmental tasks of identity formation, growing independence and a greater pull towards peer influences, they must also strive to manage their sense of self, confidence and resilience; not an easy task with Instagram and Snapchat posts not-so-subtly setting an unrealistic standard.
So what are we doing to support children and young people’s emotional resilience in the face of such pressures? Sadly, often not enough. While understanding is growing, the stigma around mental health difficulties remains. Difficult emotions and mental health difficulties are still not spoken about enough. Schools remain under-resourced and lacking in training for dealing with such difficulties. Parents can often struggle to know where to turn or how to be helpful. How do you help your child get through something which can be hard to understand when they’re struggling to let anyone in? The result can be children left feeling isolated, out-of-control and trapped in negative cycles of despair.
As with any emotional difficulties, the first step is often finding a way of expressing these muddled, difficult-to-define feelings. Supporting your child to test out a language for emotions, to find a forum which allows them to open-up, and to test out new ways of managing their mood are just some of the things we need to turn our focus to.
Positively, children and young people can have multiple sources of support around them: through you, their school, clubs or local services. The level of vulnerability in children today is slowly being recognised. More slowly still, resources, training and support systems are being implemented to support you in your role as a parent. In the mean-time, there are key things we can be doing as parents to support our children:
- Start a conversation
- Listen! Sympathise first, problem solve later.
- Pay attention to your child’s behaviours; changes and patterns
- Talk about your own feelings
- Model helpful ways in which you have learnt to manage your own mood or daily stresses
- Make sure your child knows who else they could talk to or how else they could let you know they were struggling
- Support positive activities, hobbies and interests
- Seek support and advice
Let’s face it, we’re all still learning ways of managing stress and difficult feelings; it’s a lifelong pursuit so let’s set the younger generation off with a head start.