These past few weeks since our children have returned to school, many challenges have emerged. For some just going back has been overwhelming. There have been worries about being behind on schoolwork, trying to catch up and adjust to being back at school with the new rules, including regular testing and the wearing of masks.
Our young people have been through a lot this past year, and their capacity to cope with all this transition and change has been stretched to the limit.
I have been speaking to many parents in the past few weeks, parents who are concerned about their children. They share their teens worries about the future, their struggle to settle back into school or even manage day to day school life and finding getting back into routine difficult, just some of the challenges.
What do they need?
It may be that your teenager has never had an issue with going to school before, or the anxieties or worries they have had have been manageable, but now they are not. It is like this pandemic has shone a magnifying glass over any pre-held issues and concerns, and the longer it has gone on, the harder and harder our young people have found it to cope with their days, weeks and months without the life they anticipated and looked forward to. We may be dreaming of holidays away from home and a chance to see family which is so important, but this generation just want to be able to see their friends, hang out, take the train to go shopping or just grab something to eat when out and about. They need this and they have been deprived of it, for far too long.
What can we, as parents, do?
The struggle for parents is to know what and when they should be seeking help for their children. There is a general acceptance that services are overwhelmed, waiting lists are long and this can lead to parents feeling panicked and alone if their child is struggling and they don’t know what to do for the best.
1. My first suggestion is always that if you are seriously concerned about your teenager’s mental health, if they are not engaging with everyday life, refusing to return to school, or have developed issues such as eating control or self-harm, always contact your GP in the first instance. A number of parents discount doing this because they don’t think that any help will be available. However, it is vitally important that this is your first port of call, even if you end up searching for additional help too. Health Services have a duty to care for the young people in their community, and to share this with someone who has medical experience and knowledge is important on your journey for exploring whether your teen need further help.
2. Secondly, know that it is okay to ask for help. One feeling parents I speak to describe is one of overwhelming guilt or shame that their teen is behaving in the way they are, or doing things which they had no idea of. Please know that you have done the best you can in an unprecedented set of circumstances, and even though it might not feel like it, the way your teen is feeling or behaving is not your fault. We often lack the parent support networks during the teen years that normalise some of the challenge’s parents of teens face, along with the frustrations which go along with this journey. The support, formal and informal available to us when our children are babies and toddlers is just not readily available when they reach adolescence, neither is preparing for this stage of development. It’s a tough and fast changing world out there, so even guidance from your own parents and extended family does not always match up with the issues faced by this generation. Technology did not exist in the way it does now and we are constantly having to be flexible and accommodating of new ideas, concepts and beliefs about the way the world works.
3. Thirdly, we give ourselves the hardest time, and that often means we struggle to talk to someone about what is really going on. Even if the way your teenager is behaving isn’t causing you major concern, but you would like a take on what is going on for them, it is often difficult to find someone to offload to without feeling like you are doing something wrong. What parents often say to me, on the phone or in an email, is that speaking to someone who is not emotionally involved in their lives means that they can offload their concerns and let go of some of the worries which may be cycling round and round their head. We know that when we feel heard, and understood, then we are better able to provide support and care to those around us.
I am someone who gets it, as a professional, and as a parent, and I want you to know that you are not alone. You don’t have to be experiencing major challenges with your teenager, but awareness of the challenges they do and have faced, especially in light of the pandemic, and what the future may hold for them can allow us all to be better prepared with knowledge and understanding so we don’t feel so alone if something does emerge which us parents of teens were not expecting.
If you feel spending some time with me, and other parents of teenagers would be helpful, then consider booking a place on my Tools for Teen – Understanding the Teenage Brain Online Course which starts on Monday 3rd May. Short, five-minute videos, which you can watch at your leisure, and the opportunity to gain knowledge, ask questions and feel supported as we continue to navigate the pathway of parenting teens. Places are limited as I want to offer my full support to every single person who joins. More information and the link to book is here.
Find out more by watching the video below: