As parents, we desire the best for our children. However, as they grow older and become more exposed to the world through social media and their friends, struggles with their mental health could arise. We often notice when our teens are struggling emotionally, but we rarely attempt to understand the extent of their suffering.

As the rates of mental health struggles continue to rise in teenagers, parents must take responsibility and prepare to have difficult conversations about mental health with their children. How do we recognize our child is struggling with their mental health, and how can we help them?

Parents may not have experienced chronic mental health struggles, and it can be our first reaction to tell our teen to “snap out of it,” believing it to be just another rainy day. However, depression is more than just a “sadness”; depression is a chemical imbalance that often requires medication or professional therapy, sometimes both.

When we notice our teen suffering mentally, we may also see signs and symptoms that typically accompany emotional tribulation. Teenagers may start acting out unusually, withdrawing from family and social activities, or engaging in risky behaviors or excessive anger. Parents have a responsibility to address and discipline their children, but parents also have a responsibility to understand the difference between bad behavior (we were all teenagers once) and cries for help.

Such behaviors can be an attempt to communicate something our teenage children cannot vocalize. Keep in mind that these thoughts and feelings are as scary to them as they are to the parents! Evidence of self-destructive behavior may include cutting. Be on the lookout for scars or cuts on the inside of the arm, droplets of blood on bed sheets, or wearing long sleeves even in hot weather.

A network of support while helping your teen navigate their mental struggle can be instrumental to success. Teachers, pastors, church groups, counselors, and even your child’s friends and their parents can assist you in staying alert for potentially harmful behaviors or comments.

Perhaps one of the most critical variations of support we can show as parents is to display empathy. We need to take the time to listen to our teens as they overcome their mental and emotional distress; without making suggestions or corrections. We should respond with affirming statements such as “when your heart hurts, mine hurts too.” Comments like these provide teens with a safe space to open up and express their feelings in a comforting manner. Empathy speaks to love and acceptance when it is desperately needed.

As parents, we need to realize that our teens’ decisions during this trying time are not to be taken personally. They aren’t participating in these behaviors to stick it to their parents or collect an attention debt they feel owed. Teenagers are not trying to make you seem like a failure as a parent or break apart the family; they are confused and hurting and require our understanding and guidance.

When you step in and express interest and sincerity instead of skepticism or fear, your teenager could be more receptive to your attempts to help. Unfortunately, it can be challenging for us as parents to know how to open these conversations and conduct them constructively reminiscent of the love of Jesus. NuWell offers Christian counseling for you and your family. Whether it’s you and your teen, just the parents, or just your child, NuWell is ready and equipped with therapeutic methods grounded in science and scripture to help guide parents and teenagers towards a healing path.