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How to support your teen’s mental health

An unsmiling teenaged girl with her parents standing behind her.

Feb. 27, 2023—Teens—especially girls—have been having a tough time in recent years, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In their responses to CDC's 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 57% of U.S. teen girls said they persistently felt sad or hopeless. In 2011, only 36% of teen girls reported feeling that way. The number of teen boys who felt persistently sad and hopeless also increased, from 21% in 2011 to 29% in 2021.

Persistent sadness or hopelessness can be a symptom of depression. If you're a parent, you might be worried—and wondering how you can support your teen. To help your child cope with depression or sadness, try these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics and HelpGuide.

Help your child stay social. Being close with friends and family can support positive mental health. And isolation can make depression worse. Encourage your child to get involved with friends and activities. You might invite other families with kids their age to your home or to special events. Or you might help your teen find a cause to volunteer for.

Foster healthy habits. Provide healthy family meals, and encourage them kids to go to bed early enough to get 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night.

Encourage exercise. Physical activity is good for your child's health—including their mental health. Sports can help your child stay active and socialize at the same time. Or you might suggest that they walk, dance, hike, bike or skateboard. Whatever they choose, as long as they're moving, it's beneficial.

Talk it through. Be gentle but persistent in keeping lines of communication open. If they shut you out at first, be respectful, but let your teen know you are there for them. Bring up concerns in a loving, nonjudgmental way. Mention specific symptoms you've noticed. Then, say you're ready and willing to support them in any way they need.

One key tip when talking to your teen: Listen more than you speak. Avoid asking too many questions, lecturing and criticizing. Make it easy for them to tell you what's on their mind.

Reach out. If your child is dealing with depression, treatment can help. You can start by talking to your child's primary care provider. If your child is in crisis or you see warning signs of suicide, call 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, or take them to the emergency department.

Remember that supporting your teen's mental health is an ongoing process. By fostering connections, encouraging healthy habits and being a good listener, you can help your child navigate difficult emotions and build resilience for the future.


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