Mental health is a tough topic to tackle with teenagers, especially when they are often defensive, distant, or just not interested.
Starting an open, ongoing dialogue with your teen about mental health issues just may be their saving grace. Watching television shows and checking out social media content together are great segues into conversations with your teen about depression, anxiety, self-harm, and other mental health conditions.
Hanging out with your teen and watching TV is a great way to initiate a conversation about mental health. Plan a night, scoop some ice cream, and settle in to watch a show.
Netflix’s controversial “13 Reasons Why” tells the story of a girl who’s committed suicide. Some scenes are extremely graphic, and experts have argued that the show may glamorize teen suicide.
If you suspect your teen is depressed, this may not be the show to watch. Either way, talk it out ahead of time. What’s important is using the show as a springboard to discuss social pressures teens face, as well as mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and suicide.
Newcomer “Riverdale” or shows to stream like “One Tree Hill” and “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” aren’t as explicit but cover topics teens deal with like rejection, failure, first love, sexuality, teen pregnancy, family discord, and death. Your teen may identify with characters on the screen, giving you a great opportunity to segue into a conversation.
TV Talking Points
Start by asking, “What do you think of the show?” This can naturally lead to a discussion about problems your teen faces.
Identify with the characters. Showing empathy for a girl who’s been dumped by her boyfriend may help your teen open up about a breakup.
Don’t judge! Statements like “That girl is slutty” or “How stupid can those guys be” will end a conversation, not encourage it.
Use a scenario from the show to ask questions like, “If you were feeling so low you didn’t want to go to school, how would you deal with it?”
Steer the conversation towards topics like anxiety, depression, and self-harm in the context of the characters’ lives.
After the show, use open-ended conversation starters like, “What’s going on at school?” or “So, tell me the latest.”
Talk about the realities of mental health. Everyone gets down occasionally, but depression, anxiety, and self-harming behaviors are conditions that can be diagnosed and treated.
Assure your teen that you’ll get him help if needed, and make sure he knows about school and community resources, too.
Keep the conversation flowing! Make a weekly date to watch a show. Check in with your teen on a daily basis.
Social Media and Mental Health
Like it or not, social media is an integral part of teenage life. And with the excess of negativity out there, it’s easy for teens to get sucked into the threshes of depression and self-doubt, especially since social media opens up many more outlets for bullies. But social media has a positive side! Talk to your teen about using social media for mental health awareness. Posting videos and messages that shed light on teenagers suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions is a growing trend on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook. Try these parent-teen conversation starters:
Invite your teen to give you a tutorial on navigating social media to see what they’re exposed to.
Explore messages about mental health on social media together.
Use the power of the media for good. Encourage your teen to have an ongoing dialogue about mental health by watching shows and using media that speak to them. Keep that parent-teen conversation going!