Parents are their children’s first experience to this world. Children learn their first navigation of the world around them through watching how their parents do it. Hence, parents have a direct influence on their children regardless of whether there is any intentionality involved. When it comes to mental health, parents are also progressing together with the society in learning, un-learning and re-learning. Therefore, it would be paramount for parents to continue being a role model for their children as they reach adolescence.
1. Walking the talk
Walking the talk means doing what you say you would do before expecting others to do it. This gains the respect of youths as you are seen as reliable and trustworthy to them. As a result, you would see them being more willing to listen to your advice and seek your support when needed.
2. Being vulnerable
It may not be natural for parents to show signs of inability to manage life’s difficulties in order to maintain a strong and protective image for the family. However, this would only cause family members to grow apart as each individual tries to hide their struggles behind closed doors. In fact, facing challenge is a natural part of life. It is only natural to express difficult emotions while going through challenging times.
The challenges that today’s youth face may have similarities and differences with those that their parents’ generation faced. Given the changing times, it is important not to shame or blame youths for their negative experiences when they share it with you. Always look for their strengths to encourage them to overcome challenges. Your kind words matter.
4. Challenging their own assumptions
In the process of supporting youths with mental health struggles, it is easy to expect them to operate within the parameters of your assumptions. Typically, the beginning of a youth’s recovery and healing journey also marks the beginning of family healing. This journey is often non-linear and varies differently for individuals. It is critical for parents to keep an open mind when it comes to challenging their own assumptions about how to support youths and the needs of the youths; for instance, the needs of youths in this generation are very different from what youths may need in their parents’ generation.
1. Start saying “thank you” and “sorry”
It takes humility to express appreciation and acknowledgement of wrongdoing, but it is important to establish a healthy and loving relationship with your youth. You may start by taking small steps to validate your youth by saying these simple and kind words of acknowledgement.
2. Giving compliments
Parents tend to give more criticism than praise because they believe it will encourage their child to do better. However, this could backfire because negative voices will eventually lead to lower confidence which is an essential ingredient in doing better. Start praising your child by letting them know how much you value them.
3. Reaching out for support when needed
Parents can start to create an emotional safe space in the family by showing that it is acceptable to experience difficult emotions. Some examples may include normalising crying in times of distress regardless of age and gender, and reaching out for support when needed. When you reach out for support when it is needed, it sends a strong message to youths that it is okay to be not okay when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. The ability to be vulnerable is a sign of strength, not weakness. This is countercultural but it is the essential ingredient that can bring families closer together. As there is now emotional safety, this helps to create opportunities for youths to share openly about their emotional difficulties within the family.
Communication begins not with our lips but with our ears and heart. Conversations can only take place when the other parties pause to listen to the party who is speaking and then responding appropriately. Active listening is the key to effective communication more so than speaking with eloquence or in length because it allows you to connect with your child.
Here are 4 common mistakes in communication between parents and their children:
Trivialising occurs when you think what your child is experiencing is insignificant enough to warrant concern. For instance, your child may be feeling upset over the loss of a pen, a soccer ball or a friendship.
What Trivialising might sound like:
It does not matter what the loss is because each loss carries a different subjective value to each individual. A pen may not mean much to you but it may mean a lot to your child and their experiences are valid. Though you may hope to alleviate their distress by making light of their experiences, doing so invalidates their emotions and further intensifies their distress.
What to do instead:
Empathise with their distress by validating their feelings (“I hear that you are feeling sad over this loss, it must have been difficult for you”) and offer support (“ How would you want me to support you now?”). Sometimes, offering your listening ear to hear them out is the solution needed.
Blaming involves shifting and denying responsibility. When it comes to communicating with their children, some parents may hold them responsible for their emotional state.
What Blaming might sound like:
Typically, parents want to show their children the impact of their actions on others so that they can understand the experiences of others. However, blaming would only make them feel guilty about themselves. Guilt leads to shame and shame is the opposite of empathy. When we feel ashamed, we are unable to think about others. This is because we would be preoccupied with how bad we feel and how bad we think we are.
What to do instead:
Take responsibility for your own emotional state. Regardless of how you may feel towards a situation concerning your child, you are responsible for your responses. You may say “I am feeling really angry right now and I will get back to you when I feel calmer.” By responding in this way, you are communicating your emotional state to your child in a healthy way. Subsequently, you may be able to respond to the needs of your child in a more objective manner and find solutions to the problem.
Unsolicited advice are suggestions given that are not necessary or requested for. Unsolicited advice is usually given when parents think they know what is best for their child and overlook listening to their needs. Though the advice may be good, it becomes ineffective when it is given at the wrong timing as it is not received by the other party.
When this happens, you may:
As a result, youths may be hurt because their needs are not met. It will also increase the disconnection between you and your child.
What to do instead:
Listen attentively to your child. Ask them the form of support they would like to receive from you. Collaborate with them to find solutions together instead of jumping to conclusions. As children mature, it will be important for parents to make room for them to share their own views and make their own decisions as they are developing a greater sense of autonomy.
Criticism has a damaging effect on the child as it brings upon them shame, guilt and fear.
What Criticising might sound like:
Guilt makes your children feel bad for what they do. Shame makes your children feel bad for who they are. Fear makes your children feel unsafe to learn because their thinking rational part of the brain shuts down when in fear. These defeat the purpose for which the communication was first intended by parents.
What to do instead:
Highlight the inappropriate behaviors instead of downplaying the child’s personhood. Look for ways to have your own needs met to prevent heaping guilt onto your children. Refrain from using threats, yelling and silent treatments. Remember to initiate difficult conversations even after the cooling period.
Ultimately, communication is about connection. This list is non-exhaustive but it does takes time for you to practise the different ways of communicating with your child.
Friendships are important to youths because they are strongly tied to their identity development in the developing phase. Friendships help and allow youths to find a sense of belonging, acceptance, confidence and comfort. Their friendship community also offers a safe space for them to share and to be identified in their challenges and struggles.
1. Struggle to make friends
Youths may struggle to make friends due to their shyness or the fear of rejection by others. This would make them feel lonely and reduce their confidence in making friends in future. If this is not addressed at the initial phase, youths who have this struggle may end up isolating themselves in the future.
2. Being bullied; eg: ostracised, left out, etc
Youths who are being bullied may experience being manipulated, ostracised or left out and typically have difficulties in voicing their struggles out. They may also struggle to have the courage to stand up against the bullies.
3. Peer Pressure
Peer pressure is a common phenomenon among youths. This may become an issue if youths feel pressured to conform to bad habits that their peers are engaging in, such as drugs, alcohol and other illegal and harmful vices. It is common for them to struggle to say no if they feel outnumbered.
Trivialising youths’ experiences is a common mistake that parents make in responding to their children. Trivialising happens when parents feel that their experiences are not significant to warrant such a response from their youths. Such responses could result in youths shutting down, withdrawing and refraining from sharing in future as they feel hurt in their vulnerable moments. It may be true that as we mature, we may have a different view towards friendships. However, for youths at their age, friendships are highly tied to their identity. It affects how they view themselves, others and the world around them. Therefore, friendship issues carry a significant impact on youths’ mental well-being.
When parents compare youths’ experiences with another individual, it is hurtful to youths because it invalidates their experiences. Comparing is essentially saying that “you are not good enough, you are not important” and this damages their self-esteem and confidence. This also creates an unhealthy cycle of comparison which traps them in a never-ending list of comparing with others.
As parents, you can initiate a safe space by encouraging them to share their problems with you. This would send a message to them that you are willing and want to hear from them. In the process of listening, you can validate their feelings, ask them for the support they need, and work together with them to brainstorm on problem solving.
2. Teach them discernment in building friendship
You may also teach them how to build healthy friendships. This includes saying no and standing up for themselves when necessary.
SAMH C’SAY is a preventive and wellness centre that uses sports, outdoor and expressive art activities to spark conversation, promote general well-being and cultivate mental resilience for youths.
SAMH SAY-IT! provides mental health support to youths and their families in the community, through positive engagement, empowering them on mental health matters and promote help-seeking behaviours.
SAMH YouthReach is a youth-centric and family-centered psychosocial rehabilitative service for youths. Services include case management, counselling, family psychoeducation, expressive therapies and psycho-social programmes and activities.