Your child has always been very active but lately you’ve started to wonder if there is more to it than them just being a “bundle of energy”.
I’m a recovering perfectionist. In my writing, I’m always looking for a better way to phrase things (I’ve revised this sentence four times). As a teacher, I’m always tweaking my lesson plans and assignments to try to make them more effective and inclusive. And as a mother of four children, I sometimes agonize over being the best parent I can be, knowing firsthand that a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child. Some days, that means I’ve been pretty anxious, stressed, and sad. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in parenting a child with mental illness is that it’s okay to doubt myself—and even more importantly, it’s also okay to trust myself too.
You’ve noticed some changes in your child or teen and you’re wondering if something more is going on than them just having a rough day. Perhaps their teacher or coach has mentioned something to you about changes in their behavior. Maybe they are having trouble focusing in school, started acting out, crying in school, complaining of a stomach ache or having trouble making friends. Figuring out what is going on with your child can feel overwhelming as a parent. Where do you even start to try to figure out what is happening?
You’ve noticed some changes in your teenage son or daughter’s behavior. They’ve started snapping at you when you ask them a simple question or they respond with a single-word answer. They’ve started spending a great deal of time alone in their room with the door closed and are always on their phone talking, texting, Snapchatting, and messaging with their friends. And they just don’t seem as happy as they used to. You’ve asked them if everything is okay but they always respond with an exasperated sigh that they’re “fine” but you don’t believe them.
After my 2012 blog about parenting a child with mental illness, “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” went viral, I received numerous suggestions about ways to help my child. A surprising number of these comments focused on my son’s diet. “I guess I shouldn’t have let you eat Red Vines or drink root beer,” I joked to Eric, who has always had a fondness for those sugar-laden treats.
Sometimes, getting a teenager to do something that’s good for them may seem next to impossible, even when it’s common, typical things like eating well and getting enough sleep. Trying to get a teen to understand the importance of mental wellness and to take an active role in taking care of themselves can be even more challenging. But with rates of youth depression increasing, and NAMI reporting that at least half of all mental health conditions arise by the time a person turns 14, it is important that parents provide their teens with the guidance and support needed to make mental health a priority.