5 Tips for Parenting Teens When You Have a Mental Health Condition

Are you struggling with anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition? Parenting teens is never easy, but doing so while being treated for a mental health issue can be even more difficult. Read on for some tips on parenting teens while you yourself have a mental health condition.


1. Be Honest With Your Teenager


It’s possible that you have hidden your mental health condition from your children. It’s natural to want to protect your kids, and many parents choose not to talk about their health issues with young children. Now that your child is a teenager, though, it is a good idea to be honest with them about your struggles. One reason is because your teen needs to know about what types of conditions run in the family. This will help them in the years to come when filling out medical forms and seeking care for any conditions that they suspect or are diagnosed with.


Think about your teen’s communication style when broaching the topic. Your teen might be more willing to listen to your thoughts on a sensitive topic while riding in the car or while engaged in an activity. Anticipate that your adolescent might become upset or want to ask questions, and be prepared for that. You can have someone else that you both trust help mediate the conversation, if necessary. Above all, assure your teen that you are doing your best to deal with the issue and get better.


2. Seek Mental Health Care for Your Condition


It’s important that you care for yourself as you deal with your mental health condition. Part of that is seeking treatment. If you are not currently in treatment, talk to your primary care provider about your symptoms and ask for a referral to a mental health care provider who can help. You treatment will likely include some type of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help you cope with your condition. In addition, you might be prescribed medication.


Taking care of yourself by seeking care for your condition makes you more able to cope with parenting teens and all of the other tasks that you must accomplish in your life. In addition, it sets a good example for your teenager. He or she will see that you are taking charge of your condition and getting the appropriate help, and this can remind them to do so when they are older and in control of their own healthcare decisions. Further, it might make your teen more amenable to going to therapy him- or herself if they need help coping with your condition.


3. Take Advantage of Your Good Times


If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or some other type of mental health condition, you likely have good times and not-so-good times. When you are feeling good and positive, those are the times to reach out and try to spend more time with your children, take care of tasks that you haven’t been able to get to during low times, and make good memories. You will probably have good and bad times that are not easy to plan for, but you also might see patterns in your day or your week.


For example, if you tend to feel more anxious or depressed at night, try to have a sit-down breakfast with your kids rather than a sit-down dinner. If weekends are difficult for you, you might prefer to do family activities on weeknights whenever possible. If you know that you always feel better in the summer, plan your vacation for that time; during the colder or darker months, you might prefer staying close to home.


4. Make a Plan for Your Bad Times


When you are having harder times, it’s important to have a plan in place so your kids are cared for. It is tempting to allow teens to care for themselves and the household, but parenting teens requires providing guidance, supervision, and help. In addition, your teen is busy with school and other obligations and they should not be expected to run a household while you are unable to. Your teen will also need someone to talk to about the problems in their own lives; if you are dealing with your own issues, you might not be in the position to be able to support your teen through academic issues, their own worries about growing up, friend drama, and other things that your adolescent might be going through.


Find a friend or family member who might be able to step in for you during these times. Your spouse or partner might be able to handle childrearing while you are unable to. If you are separated or divorced, can the kids spend those days with their other parent? Perhaps you have a parent, aunt, or uncle of your own who can either come to stay with you or take the kids, including the teenagers, to their house. It might even be possible to see if the parent of one of your teen’s friends can keep your teenager for a few nights if you are going through a particularly stressful or depressed period.


5. Watch for Red Flags in Your Teen


For various reasons, mental health conditions can tend to run in families. There may be a genetic component in some instances. Other times, teens might subconsciously pick up on your behaviors, thoughts, and issues. In some cases, the stress of living with a parent with a mental health condition can cause anxiety or depression in children and teens. It’s important to be aware of this family correlation and to watch for red flags. Look out for signs of anxiety or depression in your teen. Signs of anxiety can include the following:

  • unexplained physical symptoms
  • panic attacks
  • frequent worrying
  • insomnia

Signs of depression can include the following:

  • sleeping too much
  • changes in appetite
  • frequent crying
  • suicidal ideation

Talk to your teenager about his or her feelings and if you have any concerns that they are developing a mental health condition, go to their pediatrician or family doctor for an evaluation and, if warranted, a referral to a mental health professional. Assure your teen that seeking help is a good thing and that with prompt treatment, he or she has an excellent chance of being able to cope with or overcome any difficulties.


Parenting teens is never easy, but it is made more complicated when a parent has a mental health condition. Talk to your therapist about the struggles that you are having; he or she might be able to suggest some options or refer you to a support group for parents in your situation.