Mental health conversation starters: 14–18 years
How to tackle emotional, behavioural and health risks that could influence the rest of their lives.
In this time of growth into adulthood, your teen is developing a unique personality and is looking for more independence and responsibility.
Teenagers increasingly interact with others through social media and mobile phones. As a result, they may spend less time with family and more time with friends, both online and outside the home.
This is also a time of physical changes for both girls and boys.
Teens can experience
- Rapid physical changes which can lead to concerns about body size, shape or weight.
- Eating problems or concerns.
- Heightened moodiness and social anxiety.
- Sadness or depression, which can lead to low self-esteem or other problems.
More than just feeling blue
- Poor mental health in adolescence can go hand-in-hand with other health and behavioural risks, including alcohol or drug use, violent behaviour and unsafe sex.
- Because many health behaviours and habits carry over from adolescence into adult years, it is very important to support teens in choosing healthy practices that assist their well-being.
“How are you doing?
You might be getting on well with your teen, or you might be experiencing challenges. Wherever your relationship currently is, it’s important to show that you are always there to help your teen through any tough times with love and support.
How to start the conversation
- Ask them about their day – try to create occasions for a chat like cooking dinner together.
- Ask open-ended, clarifying questions to understand how they feel. You could try “Could you explain what you mean by…” or “How do you think you would have felt if…”
- Ask about their opinions and even share your own so that you can understand each other better.
If you are concerned self harm may be an issue, gently raise the subject and try to find out if your teen has ever had thoughts of this.
It can help to start by asking about others rather than them, for example, “Some people your age harm themselves, have you ever heard of people doing this from your friends?”.
Reassure them that you are always there for them, for example, “you know you can always talk to me about anything”. This will let them know that they can speak to you, and that you want to help them.
- Recognize the good along with the bad and praise them for achievements, even small ones. This stage of development is also a time for creativity and personal growth – identify instances of this with your teen.
- The world feels unpredictable to your teen and they might be struggling to feel in control. Tell them you understand this.
- Check in on their online media and social habits. Talk to your teen about the time they spend online, and staying safe from harassment and bullying online. Reassure them that if they are in trouble, or have made a mistake online, you are there for them and can help them no matter what.
- Be open about your own feelings. Showing them how you deal with stress can be an example for them and talk about how you dealt with problems when you were this age.
- Take over the discussion and tell them what to do. Ask what you can do to help and work with them to find solutions.
- Have a discussion when you are angry. Walk away, take a breath and calm down – you can continue the conversation later.
- Engage in power struggles. Rather than arguing, try to empathize with your teen on their frustrations.
Remember: It’s all connected
The good news is that teens are resilient and difficult experiences are part of becoming independent, capable adults.
Helping teens feel connected to school, family and friends promotes mental health and prevents a range of negative behaviours, like drug use and violence.
Take the time to find ways to support, encourage and engage with your teen. It will not always be easy and may require patience and self-control on your part, but it is achievable and always worth it.