Mental health is a touchy subject, and youth are very confident about searching for information via the internet. So it is not surprising that a recent article via BBC News featured a concern that teens are seeking mental health advice from the internet and not involving the adults in their lives. But more interesting to me is that parents were not mentioned as one of the “go to” resources for youth seeking assistance with mental health issues. This made me wonder how parents can realize their role in their children’s mental health.
Engaging parents to promote security
Janice York is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Cameron Park who observes that when parents are absent or not engaged in the life of their child, it can become a form of isolation at home which can contribute to anxiety and depression and also hinder healing. “It is the wave of the future but I think it is sad,” she said. “A lot of times parents call to make an appointment and they know their teen is sad or depressed but they have not asked the hard questions. ‘Are you feeling so sad you are thinking of harming yourself?’ When they say ‘No not really’ it is important to let them know you heard a ‘yes’ and you ask further and deeper probing questions.” According to York, most parents are afraid to hear the answer so they don’t ask, or they simply ignore what they heard from their child in hopes it will all go away. She encourages parents to be vulnerable with their child, by not reacting fearfully (i.e., anxious about fixing their issue). “A parent has to somehow build that right to have that deeper communication level before they will feel a trust level to express that deeper issue,” she said. “That doesn’t mean a need to get serious. It is about being willing to bring yourself into a vulnerable position with your child…encourage that dialog to unfold and don’t react in a way that is fearful or avoidant.”
Sacramento resident, Diane Mintz is the author of In Sickness and In Mental Health. She encourages open dialogue about mental health and illness without shame or stigma. “In our home, we make it perfectly natural to discuss mental health,” she said. “We talk about taking care of our conditions, in the same way we would if we had diabetes or cancer – openly and unashamedly.” Mintz advises folks to avoid focusing on tragic media stories; rather point out those who have overcome and live healthy productive lives. “Teens will feel more confident when they know there is hope and will open up when they know they will be supported,” she said.
Internet connectivity can fuel insecurity
Compounding these isolating circumstances at home is that youth have access to all manner of knowledge and connections via the internet that can reinforce misinformation. Marie Hall is the founder of Living Smart Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to youth financial literacy training and employment headquartered in Carmichael. She is concerned that teens today romanticize depression impacting their sense of worth and self esteem in their music, poems and talk about suicide. According to Hall we know from our own experience that it is normal to be melancholy during adolescence, and the kids may be interpreting melancholy as depression. “Good self esteem is holding yourself accountable for your own actions,” she said. “Social media affects self-esteem, because it is often perceived as how the world is making you feel.” So when young people allow their cyber social realm to be a single point of reference for life, it can be very isolating. “’Likes’ give people temporary fame and acceptance,” Hall said. “It is completely extrinsic and many kids are trying to thrive on ‘likes’. It is not soulful, and that is why many youth are turning to alcohol and sex.”
My two cents: Considerations to engage youth in mental health conversations
- Examine your own thoughts and opinions about mental health. Do you view mental illness as a character flaw? Do you give your children the opportunity to opt out once in a while, so they can have some space to think and reflect and then later talk about what their experiences are teaching them about life?
- How do you handle feelings? When a child has a melt-down, how do you respond? Do you try to control it, discipline it? Or do you take a deep breath and calmly redirect them to a safe and private place so they can be present with you without others judging them (no condemnation), and then talk about the feelings and focus on thoughts that inspire hope?
- How do you talk about feelings with your child? Consider that feelings are real, and sometimes we cannot help having them, especially sadness, anger, fear and melancholy. But the facts are simply the thoughts or beliefs we choose to embrace and defend as individuals and as a family regardless of what is happening in the world. It is your truth. What belief system is governing your home life? Forgiveness and grace, or crime and punishment?
- Consider that stigma inspires shame (it is a form of out-casting individuals/separation), which kills open communication. The antidote is indiviual accountability with a forgiveness and grace mindset. And so it is important to realize that our opinions and wisdom are not the same thing. The temptation is to impose our personal judgments about a person’s worthiness based upon their state of mental health, behavior and accomplishments. When in fact, being governed by forgiveness and grace empowers us to hold people accountable for their actions without condemnation in our own hearts. Children are craving this authenticity in a hyper-connected world that features a crime and punishment mentality inspiring a sense of unending hopeless incarceration. In response to the offenses of others, forgiveness is choosing to express the mercy and hope of Divine Love (1 John 4:18 – fearless) which is accessible to every human being no matter how far they have fallen from grace. When consequences are administered and received without condemnation, then it is possible to stand corrected – to engage with the family and community redeemed. In this way, a forgiveness and grace mindset can make home a sanctuary despite the cyber-powered storms inspiring anxiety and feelings of worthlessness and isolation.
- When to seek professional help. If your child is expressing suicidal thoughts or seems inconsolable, seek help from a counselor or therapist. Even if you are not sure that one is needed, listen to your gut. Pick up the phone and speak with a professional who may be able to help you better assess your child’s situation.
To learn more about creating a family environment with mobile connectivity that is characterized by trust, open communication and individual resilience, go to: Fresh Start.
ABOUT: Banana Moments Foundation is a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. The BMF mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all BMF proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your Donations are greatly appreciated.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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- Email: Jullien@surewest.net
Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and recovery from addiction. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.