A few weeks ago, Simone Biles sent shockwaves around the world when she pulled out of five gymnastic events at the Tokyo games. The Olympic champion withdrew to put her mental health first and people were with her for it. Michael Phelps, Michelle Obama and Miranda Hart were among the many athletes, fans and celebrities who took to social media to show support – and we applaud them all.
In a time where one in six school aged children are likely to have a mental health problem, positive role models like Simone Biles and her supporters are invaluable. But they are not the only ones. If you care for a teenager, you can have a huge impact on how they look after their mental health. Now we know young adults don’t always appreciate being told what to do, well, ever. Encouraging and facilitating positive mental health habits is the best remit here, along with modelling them yourself. But what habits will help? Our best tip is to start with self-care.
Firstly, consider sleep. Like the rest of the human species, teenagers need enough sleep to stay healthy. For their age group, this can mean as much as eight to ten hours a night, no wonder they dislike mornings. Getting up for school, evening homework and late-night social media sessions can make it hard for teens to get enough quality sleep, but not impossible. Regular bedtimes along with dimmed lights, limited caffeine and no screen time before sleep can all help with a good circadian rhythm.
Socialising is also great self-care for young adults. Meeting up with their friends physically or digitally gives them a chance to build relationships, feel valued and process what is going on in their lives. Likes on TikTok and followers on Instagram are one thing, but times together with close friends are much better for mental health. Make sure there is time in your family schedule where teenagers can meet up with their buddies and you’re worried what might happen under someone else’s roof, invite everyone round.
Then there’s exercise. Some teens are sloths, but regular exercise will still benefit them. Foster children often don’t have experience of sport outside of PE at school, so learning a new skill can be a great way to encourage exercise. Search for local clubs or classes they might enjoy or, if you have a gym nearby, try going once or twice a week with them and work out together.
Creativity is another great form of self-care for young adults. School, contact sessions and even counselling can all make life busy and stressful for teens - stopping to be creative is a fantastic antidote. Be it drawing, painting, dancing or just listening to music, creativity can help channel our emotions so we can deal with them better. There’s a reason those adult colouring books are so popular.
We cannot prevent teenagers in our care from suffering mental health problems, especially given foster children have often experienced a fair amount of pain and trauma. We can all, however, encourage them to practise self-care and put their mental health first.
If you want to talk teens and mental health, we’re always here and happy to discuss anything. Contact us for a chat any time. Just don’t ask us to bend like Simone Biles.