It's graduation season, a time to celebrate accomplishments and make the transition to the next chapter, be it college, career training or a first job. As a mother of three and aunt to 37 nieces and nephews, I have had the opportunity to attend many graduation celebrations over the years.
I have observed how quickly things are changing in our society and the repercussions on our teens and young adults. Think for a minute about hyper-connectivity via cellphones and social media; instant round-the-clock international news; an increasingly challenging political and social environment; frequent acts of mass violence; feelings of decreased safety; increased pressure to do and be the best at everything; year-round competitions of every kind; taking more college-level classes at the high school level; applying to more colleges and writing more essays; super scoring for SAT and ACT; and early decision-early college action.
Our children are being squeezed harder and harder by society. Their ability to cope with this growing pressure comes at a cost. We are unknowingly allowing society, companies and universities to increase demands, heighten fear, raise distractions, steal unscheduled time and sleep, and reduce time with family and friends for our teens and young adults.
It can all seem like too much!
These growing pressures are coming at a cost to teens and young adults. Over the past 10 years, there has been a significant increase in major depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide among youths. Twenty percent of children ages 13 to 18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
As parents we want the best for our children. It's easy for us to get caught up in waves of popular societal ways and not consider the long-term effects when making decisions that could affect our children's mental health. What can we as parents do to help our children be mentally healthy? Here are some actions to consider:
• Creating daily phone-free and computer-free dinner time.
• Allowing for face-to-face time with your child, just being together.
• Educating ourselves and our teens/young adults on signs of anxiety, depression and other mental health illnesses and issues. (Signs in children differ from those of adults.)
• Ensuring teens have unscheduled time to play.
• Making sure teens get enough sleep, with no phones in the bedroom at night.
• Encouraging face-to-face social time with friends and phones off.
• Evaluating students' schedules, including academics and extracurricular activities, for balance.
• Encouraging adequate exercise and a healthy diet.
• Scheduling an appointment for a mental health checkup/assessment if concerned about your child's mental health.
• Participating in the college application process and understanding that the best fit may not be the most well-known.
• Checking out the mental health support system while on college visits. Offerings and support vary widely between colleges.
Our community is fortunate to have people working diligently to be resources and provide support to families about mental health issues. These include:
• Lutheran Foundation's LookUPIndiana.org;
• NAMI Fort Wayne;
• Mental Health America of Northeast Indiana;
• Private therapists and counseling centers;
• Remedy Live;
• The Mental Health Coalition created by Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner, to improve education of and access to mental health services; and
• JEDFoundation.org for advice on making the transition to college for students and parents.
My hope is that you will form a network of parents, along with a mentor, to gain knowledge, receive guidance and create opportunities for discussion of important parenting decisions. Parenting can be so difficult when our children are faced with new and challenging difficulties. Be mindful of thinking things through.
It's easy to get caught up in our fast-paced society and feel pressure to make certain decisions. Utilize available community support and resources as you help your children grow so they can be physically and mentally healthy.
Enjoy your children!
Helen Huser Nill is a community volunteer and co-chair of the Catholic Charities Hope to Healing Mental Health Initiative.
• "The Teenage Brain" by Dr. Frances Jensen
• "Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls" by Lisa Damour
• "Play" by Dr. Stuart Brown
• "#LookUp - A Parenting Guide to Screen Use" by Judy Stoffel
• "The Stressed Years of Their Lives" by Dr. Janet Hibbs