5 Ways to Help Your Teen Create a Support System
by Taylor Marrs, MSW
A strong peer support system is a valuable resource that can provide a variety of benefits to adolescents. In today’s social climate, mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression have become increasingly prevalent, impacting an estimated 1 in 5 teens (Clark, 2021). Additionally, many of the support opportunities that traditionally helped adolescents/ young adults are less available to them, increasing the importance and impact of peer-level relationships that are both engaging and supportive. Peer support can be structured or unstructured and can provide teens with a host of benefits such as an improved sense of community, reduced isolation, psychoeducation, and can ultimately increase the likelihood that a teen/young adult struggling with a mental health issue will confide in an adult or engage in treatment. The presence of a teen’s sense of belonging can directly impact confidence and self-expression.
Let’s look at 5 ways that teens/young adults can create a healthy peer support system:
- Help your teen connect to community organizations
- Churches, sports teams, school clubs, and other extracurricular activities are great sources of peer-level support and engagement.
- Other forms of social engagement as simple as spending time with friends or family can help curb negative thought patterns and promote positive developmental outcomes.
- Encouraging your teen to try new things and engage with others can help empower them to find a community or social group that is a great fit.
- Make the family a support system
- Do more listening and less talking to your teens.
- Do more guiding with questions and curiosity and less telling.
- Do more collaborative problem-solving and less fixing.
- Have fun as a family.
- Have your teen’s friends over to your house and make your place a hangout.
- Play board games.
- Engage in physical activities with your teens.
- Take trips together and have them plan the trip with you.
- Remember that rules without relationship equals rebellion.
- Nurture your teen’s passions
- If your teen likes animals connect them to the animal shelter or volunteer organizations that care for animals.
- If your teen likes baking help them find a baking club.
- If your teen likes sports find a local club and get them involved, or help them practice.
- Treat their passion seriously and help then find ways to express their passion with other.
- Connect your teens to other adults that can influence and support them.
- Grandparents, cousins, uncles, youth pastors, teachers, coaches can have a significant and positive influence in your teen’s life.
- Create opportunities for adults to connect to your teens. Casually have them over to your house and involve them in family get-togethers and activities.
- Find volunteer opportunities for your teens with adults who are leaders and support your teens growth and development.
- Help your teens build a healthy support system using social media/with boundaries
- Give you teens opportunity to connect with others via phones and social media, but with boundaries
- Explain to your teen that everything in life has boundaries. If you eat too much of anything it isn’t good for you. Cars will get you places, but there are speed limits. Too much sleep isn’t good and too little sleep isn’t good. Everything in life has boundaries.
- Set limits with your teen regarding technology and let them know that technology used wisely is a way to create a healthy friend network, however, it is not a substitute for in-person connection. Discuss the limits with your teen and try to come to agreement together with your teen on the applications and reasonable time limits for the applications that will be using.
- To set limits using an iPhone, you can establish boundaries using Screen Time: On the iPhone, Go to Settings and tap Screen Time. Scroll down and choose your child's name under Family. Tap Turn on Screen Time, then tap Continue. Set up Downtime, App Limits, and Content & Privacy with the limitations that you want for your teen.
- Talk with teens about being respectful to others when using social media and discuss how to respond appropriately when someone is rude or disrespectful to them through social media.
Limit Social Isolation
In the same way a strong sense of belonging promotes confidence and self-esteem to many teens, the adverse is also true. Experiencing isolation is linked to increased risk for symptoms of depression and anxiety. Teens and adolescents today have been more vulnerable to isolation as in-person learning, and extracurricular activities continue to be impacted by Covid-19. Experiencing significant periods of isolation can make it easier for individuals impacted by anxiety or depression to abstain from social engagement. Encouraging and instilling positive engagement on a routine basis with your teen can go a long way. Get your teen in the sunlight. As little as twenty minutes a day of outdoor sunlight has a significant impact on increased serotonin and Vitamin D levels.
Discuss and Expose Your Teen to Mental Health Topics
Increased exposure to the experiences of others can have a powerful impact on adolescents and young adults. Today’s teens have more access than ever to others’ experiences with mental health through social media, television, and peer-to-peer interactions. Discussions with peers addressing mental health can normalize the topic, and even help teens better understand or articulate the emotions they may be experiencing. One of the most important changes that can come from peer support, is teens’ realization that they are not alone. Improvements in psychoeducation and emotional awareness can help a teen’s confidence in confiding with an adult or engaging in treatment.
Using the ideas above you can help your teens to build a healthy support system so that they can grow and become the amazing person that they are meant to be!
Ansell, D.I., Insley, S.E. (2013). Youth Peer to Peer Support. Youth Move National.
Clark, S. (2021). Many parents say teens with anxiety, depression may benefit from peer confidants at school. University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation. Retrieved from https://ihpi.umich.edu/news/many-parents-say-teens-anxiety- depression-may-benefit-peer-confidants-school.
If you need help with your teen, Taylor Marrs is ready to help you. Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-636-2888, ext. 16.