It is not unusual for added stress, anxiety, or even fear to accompany the weeks heading into the summer break as teens grapple with things like finals, prom, higher education, summer jobs, etc. However, the ongoing mental health crisis impacting young people has now become a year-round concern, especially as another troubling trend emerges.
The increasing number of school violence threats is putting additional stress on students who may not feel safe at school, and the statistics are sobering. There were a record-high 273 school shooting victims in 2022, and the number from the first three months of 2023 is already outpacing the same time period last year. The number of school shooting false alarms is also rising across the country, a new reality putting teachers, students, and parents on edge.
With so much seemingly out of our control, there are steps you can take to help foster resiliency and promote positive mental health habits in your children.
Know the facts
There is no such thing as perfect parenting so make an effort to keep learning as much as you can from trusted sources around you. These could be friends and relatives, your child’s teachers or health-care providers, child development experts, researchers, and practitioners. Different ages and stages require different strategies, but you have the power to reduce risk. A parent’s ability to be flexible and adapt will go a long way in knowing what in their child’s life can promote or get in the way of healthy development.
Be an example
In order to have a positive impact on your child’s attitudes and behaviors, it’s vital that you too model safe, appropriate, and healthy attitudes and behaviors for them. Teens especially are watching what you do more than they are listening to what you say, so even your flaws or shortcomings can serve as opportunities for learning coping and social skills, how to apologize or forgive, and ways to bounce back from a challenge.
Being a good example also means taking care of yourself and normalizing the act of seeking help when it’s needed. Children with strong, reliable, and supportive adults in their life are most likely to develop resilience.
Monitor their behavior
Part of protecting your kids as they develop into healthy adults is knowing where they are, what they are doing, and who they are doing it with. The prominence of social media and technology means monitoring also requires keeping an eye on your family’s screen time and social media use. Too much time spent on either has been associated with poor mental and physical health, weakened family bonds, and reduced connections to school and community.
More specifically, be on the lookout for unusual signs of anxiety, distress, or other mental health problems in your children, and seek help if you have concerns. If their behavior becomes uncharacteristically unruly, they seem anxious or distressed, or they’re having significant social problems, seek help from a professional — just as you would if they demonstrated signs of physical challenge or illness — rather than resorting to punishment.
Communicate openly and honestly
Good communication builds trust, which helps children feel secure, safe, and empowered. They need to know that you’re a credible source of information and that you are prepared to listen to and support them even if you don’t always approve of what they say or do.
Try to validate your child’s feelings and show that you respect their individuality, appreciate their strengths, and understand their weaknesses. Frequent family meals or other routines can allow for low-pressure check-ins on your children’s mental well-being.