Entering adolescence is no easy feat. Not only do teens experience significant changes that affect them biologically, physically, and emotionally, but they also face social pressures as they work towards goals, make friendships, and deal with the daily demands of life. Therefore, it’s important to teach healthy coping skills for teens to increase their resilience, build emotional regulation, and develop their self-esteem. Learning these skills will protect their overall well-being and give them a toolkit to cope with any obstacle they face.
11 Signs Your Teen Is Struggling
According to UNICEF, one in seven adolescents experience mental health disorders. Therefore, if your teen is struggling, you’re not alone. Yet, one of the best ways to support them is by increasing your awareness and through prevention. So, here are a few signs to observe. But remember, everyone displays signs and symptoms differently.
- Noticeable changes in their diet, sleep, or moods
- Withdrawing and isolating from loved ones
- Increased reactiveness and angry outbursts
- Excessive worry, fears, or concerns
- Signs of alcohol or substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts
- Lack of motivation or energy
- Feeling guilt or low self-worth
- Poor personal hygiene
- Declining grades and task completion
- Problems concentrating, retrieving information, or ability to think clearly
Healthy Coping Skills for Teens
1. Create a safe space to communicate
Healthy communication is at the forefront of positive mental health. On the flip side, bottling your emotions up and isolating teaches teens to develop the “I can do it all by myself” mindset and fear accepting support. Therefore, it’s critical to provide a safe space for them to come to you with any problems they’re facing. It will strengthen your bond, enhance trust, and teach them how to be more vulnerable in relationships.
How to teach the skill: The first cardinal rule is practicing active listening. For example, mindfully listen without interrupting or passing judgment. Furthermore, learn how to avoid common parenting mistakes by being empathetic, validating their feelings, supporting their boundaries, and respecting their opinions even if you disagree. Over time, your teens will feel more comfortable coming to you.
2. Brainstorm solutions
When faced with an obstacle, how do you respond? Do you buckle under pressure or brainstorm to find a solution? Practicing this coping skill for your teen will move mountains in every chapter of their life. It will give them the self-confidence and know-how to persevere and overcome any setback in their path.
How to teach the skill: In conjunction with the previous tip, give them a safe space to vent about a current problem. Then, motivate them to create five potential solutions to overcome the problem. Remember to approach the situation with patience, compassion, and empathy, as they might become frustrated or overwhelmed. If so, encourage them to take a deep breath and continue when they’re ready.
3. Positive self-talk
Like adults, teens are unfortunately vulnerable to mind traps, anxious nights replaying scenarios, and cognitive distortions like black-and-white thinking. However, if you help them reprogram their self-talk now, it will provide a valuable skill; they’ll learn how to investigate their thoughts and not always believe their inner critic.
How to teach the skill: One of the best ways to teach them how to improve their inner dialogue is through cognitive restructuring. For example, if you hear them make a self-deprecating statement like “I’m not enough” or “Everybody hates me”, ask them for evidence. Ask, “Why do you think this way? Can I have the facts that prove this thought?” Then, challenge the thoughts by reframing them with more positive ones. Depending on their current mood, it might be difficult, but continue to practice this tool until it becomes their default method of thinking.
It’s no surprise meditation and mindfulness are on this list. With popular apps like Headspace and celebrities globally touting its importance, mindfulness is integral to combatting life’s challenges, including adolescence. For example, it enhances concentration, improves academic performance, and encourages self-awareness and introspection. With greater clarity and understanding of their thoughts and emotions, your teen will experience increased confidence to navigate stress.
How to teach the skill: The beauty of mindfulness is that you can teach it and incorporate it into any aspect of your teen’s routine. For example, you can model mindfulness by exhibiting mindful parenting techniques by being present at meal time, listening to their conversations intently, and pausing to respond more effectively. You can also create a mindful morning routine to eliminate stress by teaching them when they have free time how to eat, make their bed, and even brush their teeth mindfully and connected to the present moment.
5. Creative expression
As mentioned earlier, adolescence can be a tumultuous time, triggering a wide range of feelings and stressors. Therefore, the freedom of creative expression provides a healthy outlet to manage and express the wave of emotions they’re experiencing daily. Even more, it promotes relaxation and stress reduction by giving them a respite from the pressures of school, relationships, puberty, and life.
How to teach the skill: If they’re already experiencing a loss of interest, asking them directly, “What type of art do you enjoy?” will most likely provide a shoulder shrug or a slammed door. Instead, give them a list of art activities for teens that match their interests. For example, if they love to paint, provide art supplies and a space of their own to decompress in private. Or, if they love to dance, enroll them in different dance classes to find the one that aligns. By encouraging them to experiment with various forms of expression, they’ll feel safer to explore their thoughts and feelings through art.
6. Active release
We all know the physical benefits of fitness: improved sleep, stronger bones, healthier heart, etc. But the body and mind are one entity. For example, developing a fitness habit will help your teens combat mental health problems like poor concentration, depleted serotonin levels, and low self-worth. It will also give them an outlet to focus on rather than their screens – a bonus!
How to teach the skill: If your teen is struggling with motivation, make exercise a family activity to foster a stronger bond and give them the support they need. However, try to choose activities aligned with their interests and always respect their autonomy if they want to do something different. One of the best ways to boost their interest is by choosing activities they’re excited to share. For example, boxing, rock climbing, scuba diving, freediving, and training for a marathon will expand their confidence and connect them to something they may love long-term. But remember to highlight that the goal is emotional release and physical wellbeing, rather than perfection, which will help them learn how to develop body neutrality.
7. Emotional regulation
One of the best healthy coping skills for teens is emotional regulation. When they can manage and understand the influx of their emotions, they can respond better, develop healthy relationships, and cope with stress more effectively.
How to teach the skill: Lead by example. That’s right. Show your teens how to express and manage emotions constructively. For example, when you’re upset, outwardly discuss your emotions by labeling them (I feel sad), talk through your feelings, and demonstrate a strategy to regulate your stress, like practicing breathing techniques for anxiety.
Self-forgiveness is a powerful tool for anyone, no matter the age. Yet learning this skill when they’re younger will greatly impact your teen’s emotional well-being. It will boost their self-esteem, teach them how to foster a growth mindset, and develop a better relationship with failure. All of these benefits will give them the confidence to continue to tackle their goals no matter the mistakes they make.
How to teach the skill: Again, it’s important to involve another modeling strategy. Your children learn by your example and soak up your patterns, habits, and tools. Therefore, model self-forgiveness by acknowledging your own mistakes and creating a safe space for them to discuss their errors without judgment. Doing so will teach that making mistakes is a natural part of our human condition and does not define their worth.
Remember, teaching healthy coping skills for teens is an investment in their emotional resilience and overall well-being. By providing them with tools to manage stress, navigate challenges, and express themselves, you empower them to create a healthier, more balanced approach to adulthood. Parenting for the win!
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