Mental Health In Teens Today

Now that the warm weather is here, many students would (understandably) like to take a break and enjoy the season.

But for juniors in particular, there is pressure to finish strong in classes and perform well on college entrance exams next month. They’ve watched their senior friends and siblings and are well aware of the stress involved in college acceptance/denial that will soon be coming their way.

As parents, it is important for us to be supportive and not add to our children’s stress levels through expectations of perfection in academics.  Of course, we want them to thrive and learn to take care of their own responsibilities, especially if they will soon be living away from home.

Even so, we must walk a fine line and recognize that this time in a young person’s life can be particularly difficult.

Earlier this month, I attended a luncheon sponsored by Summit Education to hear Dr. Richard Ginsburg speak about mental health among our students today.  He is on the faculty at Harvard, works with the Red Sox and has a practice at Newton-Wellesley Hospital (in other words, he knows his stuff!).

Dr. Ginsburg provided some stats from the National Institute of Mental Health to support what we have all been hearing: Today’s students have high rates of anxiety and depression.

  • Teen boys and girls have greater rates of depression (14% higher) and anxiety (24% higher) than they did a decade ago.
  • 10% of college students consider suicide.
  • Only 50% of teens with psychiatric issues (anxiety, depression, eating disorders, etc.) seek out treatment.

He went on to emphasize how important it is for parents to pay attention and notice changes in our children – and to seek out professional help if things do not seem right.  These warning signs may include changes in appetite, sleeping habits, social patterns, emotional state, willingness to attend school, and more.

Dr. Ginsburg also discussed the importance of coping skills, something that can be useful at any point in life and something that we, as parents, can model for our children.  This may involve having them see us make mistakes, learn from them, and move on, as well as watching how we find healthy ways to unwind each day.

Specifically, he recommends the daily practice of mindfulness. These two apps, in fact, can help your children (and you!) develop this beneficial habit: and

For those who fare better with more active techniques for staying in the moment – a walk in the woods, a run, deep breathing, yoga, etc. – Dr. Ginsburg suggests learning these skills now, before heading off to college.

Finally, meeting with a counselor or therapist is a great way to learn individualized coping skills as well. If a therapist is not needed or available, having an adult that a student can reach out to for help (in addition to a parent) can be very beneficial, both now and in college.

And by the way, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my most frequent recommendations, one confirmed by Dr. Ginsburg: Get more sleep!  Adolescents need nine hours of sleep per night. Help your child understand that this time will help them perform better … on tests, in the big game, and in life in general!

Enjoy the warm weather and congratulations to graduating seniors!

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