Safeguarding Our Teens’ Emotional Health

Safeguarding our teens' emotional health title image

I can hardly believe my oldest daughter will be 19 in less than two months!

I remember my pregnancy with her like it was yesterday.

It was the most exhilarating time in my life. I LOVED being pregnant!

Ah the dreams I had for this precious child…

Would this baby be a girl or a boy?  Will he or she look like me or my husband?  What would his or her personality be like?

As my baby grew, I relished every kick, every little sign that all was well and baby was growing strong and healthy…

A healthy baby…

That is every parent’s number one wish.

Boy or girl, brown or blue eyes, red or black hair… None of these are anywhere near as important to the expecting parent.

When my precious daughter was placed into my arms I counted every little toe and tiny finger… And marvelled at her exquisite perfection.

A wave of relief washed over me as I gazed into her beautiful eyes… Yes my gorgeous little girl was as healthy as could be!

And keeping her healthy, along with her two sisters, has been one of my top priorities for the past eighteen years.

When we think of our children’s health we generally think about their physical health.  We tend carefully to their nutrition and make sure they get adequate exercise to grow strong and really thrive!

We meticulously chart their growth and celebrate the many milestones… First tooth… First word… First steps….  First food…

We carefully monitor their weight and development… Protect them to the best of our ability  from getting sick.

But what about their emotional health?

If there is one thing I’ve learned as a parent, it is that tending to our children’s emotional health is actually far more important than taking care of their physical health.  Far too many children and teens suffer emotionally, whether it be from anxiety, depression, lack of self confidence of self-worth, poor body image….

Our children are under more pressure than ever before to fit-in, perform better, do more, do it faster.  And they are paying a high price for it.

According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth aged 10 to 14 with more teens dying from suicide each year than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined!

Though they crave their  independence our teens desperately need us in order to stay grounded and healthy emotionally.

Physical changes and fluctuating hormones can take a heavy toll on their sense of self at time when they so desperately seek to define who they are as individuals and where they fit in in this crazy world of ours.

When my oldest was thirteen, my baby was three and I was struck by how much they acted like one another!  A slammed door or angry words were not much different than a temper tantrum and it dawned on me that both behaviours came from the same thing — emotional overwhelm.

My teen needed from me the same things she had needed all along — she needed to know that I would always be there for her and that I would love her no matter what. She also needed to know she was safe, that my boundaries would not change no matter how much she challenged them.

Here are a few things you can do to safeguard your teen’s emotional health:

Take Time to Listen

The one thing our teens need more than anything is to be heard. They need for us to push everything aside and give them our full, undivided attention and truly listen… Without judging or feeling the need to teach, correct or guide.  Just listen.

When my oldest daughter was just a toddler we set up our “sacred time”.  I would lie down next to her and we would talk for at least half an hour, often longer.  We talked about friends, about school, about whatever she was curious about that day.  No subject was taboo.  I set up “sacred time” with each one of her younger sisters and what a blessing it has been!  It’s amazing what your children will share when they feel it’s safe to do so!

Become Interested in Their Hobbies

What books do your teens read?  What music do they listen to?  These have tremendous influence on their mood, sense of identity, and overall emotional well being and it’s imperative that you have at least a distant idea of what your teen is filling her mind with. If ever your teen should show signs of emotional troubles these can provide invaluable clues to you and her healthcare provider.

Make Time for Family Dinners

My husband and I both grew up in families where dinner time was family time and it is a tradition we have insisted on with our girls. No matter how filled schedules get we eat dinner together. With after school activities it isn’t always easy but it remains a priority to this day.

Studies have shown that family meals are extremely important when it comes to the emotional health of our children.  Especially in today’s fast paced world where technology has taken such a dominant place, having that time to disconnect and re-connect with one another is invaluable.  If you can not have dinner together every night, choose one night a week that is sacred and make that dinner special.

Sunday brunch is another special time for our family. I cook a huge breakfast and we sit down for a leisurely meal. It is a time to check in with each other, slow down and catch out breath.  A time to laugh and fill our cup.  As we nourish our bodies we nourish our relationships with one another and come together as a family.

Insist on a Good Night’s Sleep

Ah yes, sleep…

I don’t need to tell you that sleep deprivation is a recipe for disaster. I can assure you my patience goes out the window when I’m tired.  Just as a toddler who misses a nap can make you want to pull your hair out, a teen on no sleep is going to snap a the tiniest thing.

Our teens should be getting a minimum of 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night.  I know this is going to be a hard battle to fight but trust me it is one you must fight.

Be Generous with Your Praises!

I love you, I love you, I love you.

That is the one message our teens need to hear more than anything.

As much as they try to push us away, they need to know we are not going anywhere.  That no matter how ugly they can get with us we will always see the good in them.

They are trying on different roles, different personalities, feeling confused about so many things and they need to know that we’re okay with that.  It’s not always easy and it doesn’t mean that they have carte blanche and can do whatever they want.

No, sorry, I won’t allow tattoos or endless piercings…. But I have learned to voice my opinion about things and allow for freedom of expression as long as certain boundaries are respected.

As it is with their physical health, despite our best efforts we have no guarantee that our teens will not suffer from emotional distress and we must be prepared to provide them with the support and care they need.

It’s important to pay close attention to their habits and recognise signs of trouble — spending more and more time away from the family, retreating to a closed room, mood swings, drug or alcohol use, changing eating habits, lack of interest in personal hygiene, cutting and other forms of self harm…

I also cannot urge you enough to monitor their internet presence and put in place a checks and balance system.  The internet is a wonderful place for a vulnerable, hurting teen to find all sorts of recipes for self harm.

Close to 500,000 young people were treated in emergency rooms in 2013 for self inflicted injuries with an estimated cost of $10.4 billion in combined medical and work loss costs, and these numbers keep increasing with each passing year.

What support does your healthcare provider offer for your teen’s emotional well being?

Emotional health falls under the umbrella of mental health for teens as it does for adults.  Services offered and covered vary greatly from one provider to another and you should know what is available to YOU.

One visit to the ER could cost upwards of $10,000 and follow up care can last month, even years and total more than a college tuition.

Mental health is not usually the first thing we think of when it comes to our children and teens and far too many parents are being faced with horrendous costs they never would have expected to incur.

This month, United Healthcare encourages you to get more familiar with your healthcare plan and know what it covers as well as what it doesn’t so that you won’t be faced with unpleasant surprises.

Check out this month’s Dares at  and qualify for one of three $400 Gift cards as you discover how to save money, familiarise yourself with cost terms and protect yourself from cost surprises…

United Healthcare April dares


  1. These are great tips! We’re not at the teenager stage yet (thank goodness), but these are great things to keep in mind.

  2. This is really great. My son is 11 so we aren’t quite to the teen years yet, but I really like the tips!

  3. This is an amazing post–I’m bookmarking this for the next 18 years of parenting 🙂

    • Aww thanks Lauren! Parenting is such an exiting journey… sometimes exhausting. In a moment everything can change, and those teens years are the most challenging of all. All the best with your little one 🙂

  4. Heather S says:

    This whole post is full of critical behaviors to support and encourage and grow healthy kiddos. Thanks for sharing this!

  5. I’m a mother of two daughters, my oldest is 18 years old, and my youngest is 10 years old. There is a big difference in the age which sometimes causes conflicts between the both of them. I have and still going through the Emotional problems with my oldest daughter. This was really informative, and I appreciate you sharing this with us. There is days that it seems like I’m on a roller coaster ride with her. She’s fine one minute and then in a switch of a light, she’s so different. A lot of what you said was so accurate with what her emotions are like. It’s hard at times, but she knows I will never give up on her. Teen years are the most challenging.

    • I suspect every generation of parent has felt that their teens are confronted with much bigger challenges than their parents ever were, but I believe it is truly the case with our generation. Mostly because of the influence of the internet and social media… and the incredible pressures that are placed upon our teens Jenny. You have a similar age gap with your daughters as I have with mine. There are 10 years between the oldest and the youngest and 7 between the second and the youngest. My youngest spends a lot of time with kids much older than her, and though she is smart as a whip and understands a lot about what is going on intellectually, she is only 9 and quite fragile emotionally. One of the alarming trends that we are seeing with teens today is “copy cat” behaviors… unhealthy behaviors, like cutting or other forms of self harm. When my oldest daughter did a research project on anorexia and bullemia she was shocked to find so many recipes online, girls sharing their tips with one another, tips that were extremely dangerous. The best we can do is be really present in our daughters’ lives and keep a close watch on their behavior and influences… and yes, on their friends as well. Good luck with your girls. Please reach out if you have any questions.

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