Nearly half of teenagers say they feel persistent sadness and hopelessness. Here's an even scarier statistic; one in five admit to considering suicide.
This teenage mental health crisis isn't getting enough air time. Counseling centers are full and waitlists can be up to a year-long. What is going on with our youth?
Teens are sleep deprived.
In fact, they are the most sleep deprived generation in American history, and this directly impacts their mental health. Teens who get less than eight hours of sleep are more likely to feel depressive symptoms. Teens getting less than five hours of sleep are 81 percent more likely to self-harm.
These things occur because the amount of sleep one gets determines which part of their brain functions. When there is a lack of sleep, the executive brain, the part which helps with focus, memory, and intellectual growth, goes dark. At the same time, the fight/flight/freeze brain turns on.
Consider this example; say your teen is struggling and they consider self-harm. If their executive brain was turned on they would consider the consequences of cutting, like scars, disappointed parents, or God forbid, they cut too deep. However if they are using their primal fight/flight/freeze brain, they are fixated on fleeing their emotions at that moment and cannot think about the consequences.
We Never Know What To Do As Parents
Parenting is a challenge. We want our kids to have the best childhood and experience things we never did. When new sport leagues are offered, in addition to school sports, we sign them up. When they want to hang out with friends after school, before their extra curricular activities, we say yes. All the while school work is put off until late at night.
Our teens get home from a game, eat, shower, and start homework at 10pm, sometimes 11pm. They are getting to sleep around midnight and waking up at 6am to start it all over again.
What Keeps Our Kids Up At Night?
- School work is rigorous
- Demanding sports
- Phones in their bedroom
No Phones Allowed
A school speaker asked a packed auditorium how many kids had to leave their phones outside their rooms at night. Only a handful raised their hands.
It may seem harmless, because they say they don't use it after you tell them it's lights out, but let's look at the phones from a teenage point of view.
Their top priorities are friends, fitting in, and they have an intense fear of missing out on anything. Sleep will be the first thing to go if that means they can talk with their friends longer and stay abreast of what's going on with peers.
Trust me, if you allow your teen to have their phone in their rooms at night, they are using it. It is most definitely disrupting their sleep and exacerbating their mental health struggles.
What Can You Do To Help Your Teen?
Look over their workload at the beginning of the week. If they have big projects due or tests coming up, make sure you plan study time around sporting events.
Though you can't do their homework for them, you can help their study time productivity. Rather than have your teen in their room, have a central place in the house where they do homework. The kitchen table is a great spot. Make sure their phone is out of sight and silenced so they can concentrate. You can even sit with them and work on something of your own.
No Phones in Rooms
Keep the phones out of their room at night. This should be for everyone in the family, honestly. Have a spot in the kitchen where all devices go to charge.
Take an extra precaution and download the app offered for free from your service provider that allows you to disable their phone with a flip of a switch. When it's downtime, and you want them to focus, you can easily turn their phone off.
Lastly, make sure you are still doing family time once or more each week. Even though our kids act like it's the last thing they want to do, it's crucial to stay connected during these years.
Find a family activity that isn't tied to their identity. For example, if your son is a basketball star, don't play basketball as a family. Find something different like hiking or golf.
Other Helpful Tips
We should always go back to the building blocks whenever our kids struggle.
What are they eating, how much are they exercising, how are they sleeping, and how is their social life?
Lastly, if your teen is struggling with depression, don't wait until they are ready for help. Reach out to a mental health provider and allow them to get help from a professional.