A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind
Published on Mar. 15th, 2024

Our children have beautiful minds. Just listen to how our youngest tell us stories, greet their friends, draw pictures, and sing their favorite song over and over again. It’s almost as if they are in a world of rainbow clouds and candy waterfalls. It’s hard to believe that the beauty our young children possess will shift as they get older. I love the movie, “Inside Out”. It is a true depiction of how our minds transition throughout developmental growth. The movie also teaches us how much more our children need us during this transition. We will see in “Inside Out 2” how anxiety enters the story. Our children need our support to provide guidance through all the confusion the world thrusts upon us. But how do we recognize when our child is experiencing sadness, depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc.?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has joined other organizations to declare a national emergency in youth mental health. You may wonder whether the symptoms are part of the biological and social changes all young people experience on their way to adulthood. Or is it something else.

The AAP recently discussed this topic:

Pressures Teens Face

Youth mental health experts raised concerns about the extreme pressures on children and teens throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the lasting effects of school closures and other COVID-related stressors are not the only factors in teen stress. Many young people are also dealing with:

  • Overwhelming pressure to figure out their future, get good grades or gain admission to elite colleges and universities.
  • The need to be superstars in sports, the performing arts, or other extracurriculars.
  • Tough schedules that don't allow enough time for self-care such as rest, relaxation, and unstructured fun.
  • Bullying (whether in person, via social media in the form of cyberbullying or both)
  • Persistent fears about climate control, global conflict, and other weighty issues.
  • Discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, weight, religion, disability or other factors
  • Problems related to poverty or lack of money for safe, stable housing and enough nutritious food.

How Will I Know If My Teen Is Struggling?

The mental health symptoms you might see in your child will, of course, be unique to them. But as a parent or caregiver, you have a good sense of what their "normal" looks like.

Signs Your Teen May Be Having Mental Health Difficulties

In addition to more overt symptoms like mood swings, irritability, anger, and tearfulness, you may see:

  • Notable changes in sleep, weight, eating habits or other everyday patterns.
  • Loss of interest in the things they usually love or quitting activities that they enjoy
  • Withdrawing more than usual from friends, family, and community
  • Canceling plans with their closest friends with little or no explanation
  • Academic struggles that seem different or more intense: for example, failing quizzes in their favorite subject or refusing to do homework that once would have seemed easy.
  • Running thoughts or worries that won't leave them alone.
  • A whole new set of friends you've never met before
  • Refusing to talk about what's bothering them, even after you've made it as safe as possible to discuss hard issues openly.
  • Obsession with a certain goal, possibly with the belief that if they don't achieve it, their life will never be the same.
  • Signs of drug, alcohol, or other substance use
  • Signs of self-harm such as cuts, burns, bruises, etc. that your teen tries to hide or can't explain fully and credibly
  • Sexual activity or interest that seems new or more intense than before

Keep in mind that having just one symptom on this list doesn't mean your teen is experiencing a full-blown crisis. Biological changes, including the hormone shifts all tweens and teens go through, can affect your child's mood, school performance and more. But if you consistently see one or more of these signs, it's time to open a conversation about mental health with your teen.

How Can I Open a Conversation With My Child?

Here are some points to consider as you open the door to discussing your teen's mental health. This should be a series of ongoing conversations and "check ins" that you have with your child. This can help support your child's mental health and give you a foundation for times your child may be struggling more and need more problem-focused support.

  • Make it safe for your child to discuss tough issues with you. Kids often avoid talking about touchy subjects, especially if they expect to be judged, lectured, or punished. If you haven't already made this clear, affirm that your teen can tell you anything. Emphasize that these conversations will take place in a judgment-free zone. Explain that you want to understand what they're going through and provide loving support.
  • Resolve to listen more than you speak. Nothing will send your teen running the other way faster than failing to see and hear them fully. You will need to manage your own fears during the conversation so you can avoid autobiographical listening. This happens when you filter everything through your own life lens instead of listening for deep understanding.
  • Consider ways to avoid putting your teen on the defensive. Naturally, you can't be sure how they will react when you ask about their mental health. But fair, factual statements are usually best. Instead of saying, "You've been acting really strange these past few weeks," you could start with an example: "I noticed you hate coming down to dinner lately – and you don't seem hungry at other times. I wondered if something in your life is making it hard for you to enjoy stuff you usually love, like my killer oatmeal cookies."
  • Accept some silence. Your child might not know what to say at first, especially if they've been trying to hide how they're feeling or manage things on their own. People who have mental health struggles often feel shame and fear on top of everything else. This can make it hard to open up to anyone (even someone they trust). Explain that even though you're worried, you can wait for them to think about what they'd like you to know. If they don't come back to you on their own, try restarting the conversation in a few days.
  • Realize that mental health stigma still exists. Despite much progress, some people still believe that having a mental health condition means someone is broken, untrustworthy or potentially violent. In fact, many don't seek mental health treatment because they're afraid of what others will think of them.

How To Protect Our Children's Beautiful Mind?

As parents with our own issues and mental conditions, we must address and seek treatment for ourselves first. Provide consistency and security. Be present and attentive. These actions seem simple, but they take a conscious effort. There are so many things in life that can distract us from family and ourselves.

Consider child individual counseling and family counseling. Remember, it is never just the child. Consult with your Pediatrician or Family Physician. Consider consultation with Child Psychiatry or Child Psychology.

What if your child is having a psychiatric emergency? The Psychiatric Intake Response Center (PIRC), located in the Emergency Department at Children's of Alabama, is a free, confidential phone response center: PIRC Phone Number: 205-638-PIRC (7472). You may also call the Suicide and Crisis Hotline: dial 988.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Adolescence (Copyright © 2022): By: Richard J. Chung, MD, FAAP

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