Talking to your teen about self care can be difficult, so we spoke with leading experts on teen psychology to find out the best way parents can approach their teens to talk–and what skills they recommend you try!
I am a clinical psychologist and author of What Your ADHD Child Wishes You Knew: Working Together to Empower Kids for Success in School and Life. I specialize in working with kids, young adults and families living with ADHD, learning disabilities and mental health issues.
There are a few challenges that parents face when talking with or trying to help their teens. Parents quickly move into problem-solving mode which usually doesn’t work for teens. They want to feel heard and met where they are but often parents tell them how to be different, how they ‘should be’. Sometimes parents are too reactive to their teens: afraid of what they’re hearing or angry when their ideas are rejected. When they become upset, it’s like throwing kindling on the fire of their kids’ issues. The conversation now involves two people whose emotions are running the show instead of only one.
Talking to a teen about self care has to start with compassion: accepting your child for who they are and acknowledging the efforts you see them making. Teens are very quick to become defensive and dismissive. Using phrases such as “I notice” or “It seems like” is an effective way to communicate your observations without pushing them away. Then follow up with questions that encourage their participation in solving the problem: “What are your ideas about?” or “How can I support you in doing things differently?” Routines are helpful as long as they’re written down and posted somewhere. Otherwise, the parent becomes a reminder machine. It may seem juvenile to a teen but until that routine is firmly ensconced in their brains, having it written down is key.
Parents can help their kids by first and foremost setting a positive example of self-care and attention to wellbeing. Being available to listen non-judgmentally and use reflective listening tools is extremely helpful for promoting honest, heartfelt discussions. Bedtime is usually a good time to connect with a teen and often when they want to chat. That can be tough for tired parents so set a limit around how long you’ll talk with them and prop open your eyes as best you can. Car rides are another natural, comfortable time to check in. Perhaps agree in advance to discuss 2 good things and 1 challenging thing about your days. Setting boundaries around screen time not only promotes mental health. Finally, if you are arguing a lot with your teen or if they are showing atypical levels of anxiety, stress, isolation or negative moods, then seeking family or individual counseling them would be important. If they are resistant to going alone, then start with family work on improving your communication.