By Barrett White
We remember our teen years: What did we need? How do we provide for those needs for our kids?
There is probably no other time in our lives wherein so much change takes place in such a limited amount of time. Puberty (and everything that entails); budding relationships; preparation for college, trade school, or a job; and all of it at the precipice of adulthood. Teens have a lot going on! We remember what that was like ourselves, so when cultivating a safe home environment for our own children, what can we do to maintain a healthy, respectful relationship with them to help them navigate all these changes?
“What happens is that when teens get into the teenage years, they start keeping concerns to themselves; sharing with friends, but not the parents,” says Dr. Iliana Solano, Medical Director of Pediatrics at Legacy. “We see that some teens might begin to experience peer pressure to try drugs or alcohol or to have sex, and they don’t discuss this with the parent.”
This is perfectly normal and not cause for concern, Dr. Solano reassures, because there are safe ways to broach the topics with teens that keep discussions and admissions civil and respectful – for both of you.
“When we see a teen in the clinic, we give them some space one-on-one to discuss these things, and most teens open up and be honest with us about these awkward topics. We offer guidance and encourage them to share with their parents, and most teens do because they feel more comfortable talking about it after discussing with their doctor,” Dr. Solano says.
A parent to a teen herself, Dr. Solano stresses the importance of not being judgmental when your teen approaches you about sex, drugs, or alcohol. “You want them to open up. Just listen – don’t impose your own thoughts – let them open up before offering advice. But always give them some freedom to make their own decisions, and to learn from those decisions.”
It might also help to ask open-ended questions, instead of yes-or-no questions. This might help your teen discern how much they are willing to share, which gives you the opportunity to remind them that you’re a safe person to discuss these difficult topics with. In turn, your teen may feel more comfortable to share more, giving you space to offer greater guidance.
“Right now, we have seen a lot of mental health issues in young adults; anxiety and depression, mostly,” Dr. Solano says.
Potential red flags that a parent might notice could be:
- Is your teen quieter than usual?
- Not eating or overeating?
- Withdrawing from activities that once brought them joy?
These could be signs of chronic depression, but they could also be signs of acute stress brought on by just a bad few days. To know the difference, Dr. Solano says, “Don’t be afraid to ask your kids, ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘Is there something I can help you with?’ or even, ‘Is there someone you would like to talk to other than me?’”
Remember, this doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent and that your child can’t talk to you. Sometimes, these topics are just difficult – and that’s okay. “Ask them, ‘Would you like me to schedule an appointment with your pediatrician, or with the school counselor?’” Dr. Solano adds.
It’s important to emphasize that you’re not here to judge them. You just want to help them in any way you can – sometimes that means they talk to a close friend, aunt, uncle, cousin, or provider.
Physical health is just as important, too. “When we look at our teens, they might appear strong, healthy, and thriving. But it’s important to remember that they still need their annual physical exams,” Dr. Solano says. “That’s a good opportunity for them to get screened for any possible diseases, a good opportunity for them to open up to a provider about their concerns, and it’s a great opportunity for the provider to screen them for mental health concerns, too.”
Are you familiar with Legacy’s TeenWell program? Legacy TeenWell is all about providing teens and young adults with the information, resources and answers that they need to take an active role in their own health care, in a way that’s comfortable and nonjudgmental. Learn more about TeenWell here.