Teaching Your Son About Mental Health
How many times have we heard: “don’t cry, be a man”, when a young boy is upset? Or “boys will be boys” when an adolescent acts out? These may not seem that harmless in the moment, but let’s think about what hearing that over and over again does to young men? They are taught from a very young age that they shouldn’t show emotions because emotions are weak. Anger seems like the only acceptable emotion for them to show. If they throw a baseball bat when they strike out, they’re being “passionate” about the game. If they’re yelling at a friend, that’s “just how boys talk”. When adolescents repress these feelings, they don’t learn how to properly process their emotions and deal with them in a healthy way. This is why it is crucial to talk to your teen about his emotions and mental health.
The Stigma Around Mental Health
Mental health struggles are not uncommon. In fact, one in six U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. But if it is so common, why do we avoid talking about them? For some people, there is still a stigma around mental health, especially for men. Men are supposed to be strong and able to provide for their family, and men who are dealing with issues like depression or anxiety may feel like they have failed, or that they are inherently flawed. They may feel a sense of shame around their mental health struggles, and that sense of shame leads to secrecy. They may feel they need to hide these “faults”, and as a result, they do not seek out the treatment and support they need.
Talking about mental health is the first step towards removing that stigma, and in today’s world, more and more people in the public spotlight are talking about their mental health struggles. Bringing these issues into the light gives us permission to talk about them. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but rather something we can learn about and that can be treated. Celebrities that teens look up to can help them feel more comfortable opening up about their own struggles. Action stars like Ryan Reynolds talking about his anxiety, or Dwayne Johnson speaking about depression can help teens start the conversation around mental health.
Talking to Your Teen
Understanding the importance of talking with your teen about mean health, here are some tips for having those conversations:
- Choose the Right Time and Place: Finding the right time and place for a conversation can be the difference between a slammed door and a thoughtful response. Look for signs that your son may be open to a conversation. He should be feeling calm, respected, and safe in his environment. Maybe a simple activity like taking a walk or going for a drive in the car can set the stage for conversation.
- Be Prepared to Listen. It is tempting to want to solve all of our children’s problems for them. But often, when they’re trying to work out their emotions and the causes behind those emotions, what they need most is for us to listen. We can ask some open-ended questions around what they are feeling or what they find triggering, but let your son lead the conversation once he is comfortable. Make sure that he understands that no matter what he is feeling, you are not going to judge him.
- Normalize: If your son is describing feelings of anxiety or depression, let him know that these feelings are very common. You can talk with them about other people you know or celebrities who also struggle with those feelings. Remind him that he is not alone and offer to help him learn and research about these mental health issues to help you both better understand them.
- Find Support: There may be times in your son’s mental health journey where he needs extra support. Working with a mental health professional can help your son process his emotions and triggers while also creating a treatment plan to help manage his symptoms in the future.
Trails Carolina Can Help
At Trails, teenage boys often struggle with vulnerability and have a difficult time getting in touch with and expressing their emotions in healthy ways. This often manifests as anger and anxiety. To overcome this, our students learn to discuss issues and concerns in a healthy way, through wilderness therapy, group activities, and individualized clinical therapy.
Throughout his time at Trails, your son will learn to dig into his emotions to uncover what is truly bothering him, and work to communicate and resolve that rather than lashing out in anger. He will benefit from increasing his emotional vocabulary to identifying feelings, to how to best communicate with family members, peers, and authority figures. For more information please call (828) 469-0903.