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How you can help your child’s mental health

Anxious, stressed, unhappy... words now regularly applied to describe children. In National Mental Health Awareness Week we're asking - are there simple steps parents can take to ease the pain?

We all know that over the last decade mental health issues generally – and particularly in children – have reached Code Black. With the royal family and celebrities opening up about their own struggles, the stigma of mental illness is slowly disappearing.

One of the interesting questions not often asked though is how, as parents, we may be adding to our children’s anxiety, stress or unhappiness. Is our constant need to protect actually harming their self-esteem? Are our jokey comments about our kids actually not funny to them at all deep down? I think about this quite a bit as our family is one of those ‘bantery’ ones where sarcasm, though admittedly the lowest form of wit, is also easily mined by all. There’s plenty of love and cuddles, but words are flung around like arrows. How deeply do they actually hit?

d’Overbroeck’s Sixth Form

A few months back Muddy’s Kerry Potter talked to teenagers from d’Overbroeck’s  school in Oxford about the well-intentioned but unnecessary interventions levelled by adults at their peer group. The teens jumped at the chance (funnily enough) to give their parents – and all adults – some heartfelt advice. Here’s what they told us. It’s excellent food for thought, so do let me know if it resonates with you as parents, aunts/uncles, godparents, carers or grandparents.

From left: Alice, Tansy, Grace, Muddy’s Kerry Potter, and Michael

Don’t try to fix everything

“My parents always want to find a solution for everything. It comes from a good place – they’re trying to help – but it can be frustrating. If I’m feeling down, they might say, “It’s because you’ve been in bed all day and haven’t been outside” or “it’s because you haven’t seen your friends in a while”. Sometimes there isn’t a straight answer to every issue and you just need to sit back and see how things pan out. You might not know everything that’s going on in our lives but that’s normal. We’re not going to tell you everything.” (Tansy)

We’re not all obsessed with our phones

“Adults assume that all kids are obsessed with social media. I accept that some are and that is problematic but every middle-aged person I ever meet says, “Let’s wait for how long it takes her to get her phone out” or “How many times have you been on Instagram today?” I actually turn my phone off for several days of the week because I find myself wasting too much time and Instagram can really dampen my mood.” (Alice)

Bullying isn’t always what you think it is

“These days people are more likely to view bullying for what it is – there isn’t that sense that the bully is the “cool guy” any more. And if parents do find out their child is being bullied and they march into school to complain about it, it can make things much worse. Sometimes I think parents are too quick to call something bullying when it’s just friends have a disagreement. As a child you have to develop skills to get along with people.” (Michael)

“Adults usually assume bullying is from an online troll or someone who doesn’t know you. But actually it’s your friends’ comments that have the biggest impact on you. That’s the real problem. Your friend often feel comfortable enough to say things like, “You don’t look great today” which can be hurtful.” (Tansy)

Quit the hilarious jokes about our clothes

“One day I wore trackies and a baggy jumper for school and my dad was like “Oh, have you decided to dress like a boy now?” I said, “No, I’m just trying to be comfortable.” A few days later I said to him, “That really annoyed me that you said that because our generation can dress how we like.” (Tansy)

“I refuse to go clothes shopping with my mum any more because she tells me I look horrible in everything. You don’t have to lie but sometimes it’d be fine to pick the thing we look least horrible in and just say we look nice.” (Alice)

Stop calling us snowflakes

“When older people say that I think it stems from a lack of understanding of the issues we face as a generation and it’s a way to discredit them – social media pressures, LGBT issues, climate change and so on. If I say, “the environment is a real problem”, they might say, “Oh you’re being a snowflake for exaggerating”.  (Grace)

Be flexible in your definition of success

“Older people see success as the usual path of university, great job, lots of money whereas with our generation, you might make no money but start a campaign that goes global like Greta Thunberg or simply grow up to the nicest, kindest person around – and we’ll class you a success.” (Alice)

“I can’t imagine myself sitting down and having the same job in the same field for the rest of my life. I just want to go with the flow and try lots of different things. I think I’ll be much happier that way than having everything mapped out.” (Tansy)

Be our parent as well as our friend

“I feel like parents read in parenting manuals that they shouldn’t be telling their kids what to do and they should let them make their own decisions. But it can go too far the other way. We’re only teenagers – we don’t always know what to do! Try to balance being a parent and being a friend.” (Alice)

“I have literally just asked my dad for advice about something, saying “I know you want me to make my own choices but can you just tell me what to do with this one?” He’s like, “No, no, you need to work it out yourself.” I’m, like, “No! You have the green light to make a call on this one.” (Grace)

Visit d’Overbroecks’ for one of its Virtual Open Days in June 2020.

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