No matter the era, it’s tough to be a teen. In 2019, over 1/3 of high school students reported feelings of sadness or hopelessness — and that was before the pandemic flipped teens’ lives upside down!
The last few years didn’t make things easier. Between social isolation, increased screen time, virtual school, and uncertainty about the future, mental health issues in teens are on the rise.
If you notice your teenager experiencing changes in their mood or a loss of interest in activities they once loved, these may be signs that they need more support. But even if your teen isn’t showing these signs, chances are they could use some extra love right now.
In-person learning is back on, and masks are coming off. Although these are welcome signs of being able to socialize again, your teen may experience stress with these changes, too: many teenagers have felt fearful of taking their masks off. Things your teen may be insecure about — like acne or crooked teeth — are now out in broad daylight.
Feeling self-conscious about their teeth may cause your teenager to smile and laugh less — which means they could be losing out on important mental health benefits. Smiling and laughing (especially in groups) create a rush of feel-good hormones that can boost their mood and reduce stress.
So how can you help your teen smile more?
Research shows that connectedness with family, friends, and community is an important indicator of how children and teenagers cope with stress. When teens have strong relationships with their parents or caregivers, teachers, and peers, they feel more confident and happy.
Help your teenager smile more by making them feel confident and supported every day. Start with small actions right at home — you might be surprised by how big of a difference they can make!
1. Help Teenage Well-Being by Getting involved
A 2019 study found that teenagers whose parents were more involved in their lives tended to do better. When parents helped kids with homework, cheered them on at afterschool sporting events, or got to know their friends, teenagers were at lower risk for emotional and mental health issues.
Keep your teen on track by taking an interest in their hobbies, extracurricular activities, and interests. Help with homework or train with them for their afterschool sport.
This extra attention might even help your child do better in school — teenagers with involved parents are more likely to have better grades and attendance records.
Getting involved in your teen’s life also helps them feel validated and seen, which can boost their confidence and make them want to smile more!
2. Happy Teens Need Listening and Support
Helping your teenager can be as simple as having a present conversation. Research has shown that active listening can help teenagers feel better about themselves and open up to you more.
It might take a while for your teenager to open up to you about what’s going on in their life. This doesn’t mean they don’t want to communicate with you — it could just mean they’re not sure how you’ll respond!
Practice active listening by giving your teen your undivided attention, responding with past experiences that might relate, and showing empathy. Remind your child often that you love them and that home is a safe space to talk about what’s bothering them. This can go a long way in making them feel supported.
Support your teen with fun activities, too. Do something they love, like hiking, getting your nails done, or listening to music. Try to pick activities they feel comfortable doing with you to increase their confidence.
3. Healthy Habits Boost Teen Mental Health
Your teen’s mental health can be closely tied to physical health. When your teenager takes care of their body, they feel more confident in themselves, which can give them more energy to engage socially and in class.
Help your teenager develop healthy habits to boost their confidence:
- Cook healthy meals at home, and teach them some of your favorite recipes.
- Make sure to include some teeth-healthy foods to keep up their dental hygiene!
- Do physical activities together like playing sports, walking the dog, or taking a hip hop class.
- Exercising reduces stress, releases endorphins (hormones that make you feel good), and can even make teens feel more creative.
Get Enough Sleep
- Encourage healthy sleep habits — sleep deprivation is linked with anxiety and depression in teens.
- Talk to your teenager about the importance of sleep and figure out a sleep schedule that they feel good about.
- Journaling can help teenagers work through their emotions, process stress, and find solutions to problems.
- Meditation is another great tool for reducing stress and increasing mindfulness. Practice meditation with your teenager to become more mindful together.
Put Boundaries on Technology
- Technology is unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean your teen needs to handle the negative impacts of tech alone.
- Talk about how screen time and social media can impact your teenager’s brain and mood.
- Encourage them to notice how they’re being affected so they can consciously choose when and how to interact with their phones.
4. Try New Things with Your Teenager
Trying new things builds confidence, especially for teenagers. Plus it’s a great opportunity to spend quality time with your teen!
Trying something new helps overcome fear and boost confidence. Your teenager will get to know themselves and might feel more creative. Sticking with something new can make your teenager feel even better about themselves.
Your teenager will be more likely to do something new if you talk about it beforehand. Make a list of things you both would want to try together.
Choose activities that get you out of your routine, out of the house, and into a new environment. This could be a craft class, book club, bike riding, dog training, or traveling to a new city.
Maintain a light-hearted attitude and encourage your teen. Make it about having fun rather than being perfect at something.
Afterward, talk about how they felt and ask if they’d want to do the same thing again or try something different.
5. Celebrate the Small Wins
Don’t wait until your child’s birthday to celebrate them: do it often! Celebrating small successes leads to better coping strategies and a more optimistic outlook on life. Remind your teenager that their accomplishments matter, even if they’re small.
Celebrate the end of a quarter at school, complete a big project, make it to the playoffs in a sport, or simply spend a Friday night together. Your celebration doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive. You could cook their favorite meal, listen to music, or sip some sparkling water like it’s champagne.
Your teenager might laugh with their friends, but it’s important to keep things fun at home, too. Laughter relieves stress and improves teenage mental health. When you laugh with your teenager, your relationship improves and they feel more supported.
Luckily, it’s easy to find ways to laugh together! Watch funny TV shows, family-friendly stand-up comedians, or heart-warming movies that make you both giggle. Choose a board game your teen loves or have them pick a new one for the family to try.
More than expensive vacations or elaborate celebrations, these are the positive moments your teenager will remember most!
7. Help Your Teenager Feel Confident in Their Appearance
As masks are coming off, your teen might be feeling insecure about features that were previously hidden by their face covering. Combined with the unrealistic beauty expectations on social media, this can make teens’ self-esteem plummet.
Help your teenager feel beautiful in their own skin by telling them what makes them special — both physically and otherwise. Tell them what physical attributes you love most. Remind them often that there are other things that are important besides outward appearance. Compliment them on their intelligence, personality, talents, and sense of humor.
If your teenager feels self-conscious about their smile, help them take good care of it. Talk about ways they can straighten their teeth and keep healthy. And don’t forget — Premier Orthodontics offers a free consultation if they want to ask us about their options!
Make Your Teen Smile
It’s never easy to be a teenager, but with teenage mental health issues on the rise, now is a particularly tough time. Help your child feel supported and happy at home so they can feel more confident at school and in social situations.
Teenagers who smile and laugh more have improved mental health. But if your teenager is feeling insecure about their smile, it could actually be negatively impacting their mental and emotional well-being.