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Influencing Teen Mental Health

Posted 6 April 2021

Hands up if you’re old enough to appreciate having grown up in a less social media savvy world. We’ll fetch you a blanket. Ok sorry, the actual reality is that however old you are right now, there have never been more platforms waiting to help you share online. The social media world is massive, but for all its awesomeness, it’s also making young people grow up on a global stage. Their lives are officially out there. Throw in some highly photoshopped Instagram accounts, a ton of teenage concerns and a Covid pandemic and it’s not hard to see why so many young people struggle with their mental health.

So with all these pressures, especially for foster children, can we positively influence teen mental health today?

School, sex, friendships, fitting-in and climate change are all big issues young people report as worrying them. Most of these are not new, but more shocking are the latest figures on youth mental health. Statistics reveal 1 in 6 children are now likely to have a mental health problem, a likelihood that’s gone up 50% in the past 3 years. Most will be diagnosed with depression or an anxiety disorder. This is grim reading, but we can try to help young people in our care.

Firstly, we can remind them not everything on social media is real. From influencers to everyday people, we only get a ‘highlights reel’ of a person’s life online. This perfect life image is impossible to replicate, so it’s important to let young people know they are not failing if they don’t have everything together all the time. In fact, they are perfectly normal. Influencer Kim Britt has a brilliantly positive Instagram account where she shares both sides of the story.

Next, encourage them to talk. To you, yes, but also to their friends. Covid has had its own influence on young people’s lives and the chances are they will have found themselves lonely at times. Connecting with friends (and where appropriate family) could be a real mood-booster and a relaxing reminder of normality. Social media isn’t all bad, after all.

Encourage them to exercise as well. The link between physical and mental health is phenomenal, so getting a young person to regularly do whatever exercise is currently permitted is a great plan. If you can, be a positive role model in this, otherwise cheer hard from the side lines.

Taking time out can be productive too. Making sure teens schedule in time to simply relax can help them to feel calm, process their thoughts and switch their minds off from study. It’s less about doing nothing and more about doing something purposeful to relax. Hobbies, deep breathing and journaling are all great options – everyone is different.

Finally, help them to make a self-soothe box for when they are feeling particularly anxious or low - or just to use during their time out. Self-soothe boxes don’t necessarily have the best name, but they are good at helping us to feel more grounded and relaxed. We could probably all use one sometimes.