A Pediatrician's Prescription for Your Child's Happiness
10 tips to promote good mental health for an adolescent
The adolescent years are a time of tremendous growth and change - both in body and mind. Children and adolescents are being diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders at an alarming rate for reasons which are complex and multifaceted. As always, prevention is the key.
What follows are Dr. Ben's Top 10 areas of focus to promote good mental health for your soon-to-be adults.
1. Sleep - As a person goes through the teenage years, it's normal to have a harder time falling asleep early and harder to get up in the morning. Good sleep can be promoted by trying to keep weekday and weekend awakenings and sleep at around the same time (within an hour or two at least). Try to walk away from screens an hour or so before bedtime and rid the bedroom of screens as best you can. This is hard but doable. Strive to get eight hours or more sleep most nights. If you find yourself unable to consistently fall asleep quickly at bedtime or wake up consistently at night, talk to your parents or pediatrician.
2. Unplug - To be a kid today is to have computerized screens as a central part of your education, entertainment and socialization. Being constantly connected, or just feeling like you have to be, is not mentally healthy. While it would be almost impossible to function today without them, it's important to realize that heavy screen use has been associated with poor mental health.
3. Exercise - If you are not involved in a sport, it's easy to have physical activity become less and less of a priority. However, studies have shown that adolescents who get regular exercise generally sleep better, perform better academically and are happier than their non-exercising peers. Finding some way to move your body with vigor, getting a bit out of breath and sweaty, can really improve your happiness level.
4. Outside - Human beings have spent millennia evolving, which, until the last couple hundred years, necessarily involved spending a large degree of time outside. Now, some people's only time outside for days on end can be walking to and from a car into home, school or activity. Exercising outside, doing homework outside or simply going for a walk outdoors can boost happiness.
5. Play - Growing up necessarily means increasing responsibilities and pressures. It becomes easy to lose track of plain ol' FUN! Doing something joyful and "non-productive" can be rejuvenating. Baking cookies for somebody, going bowling or playing a board game be a great source of stress relief. Have fun. It's one of the things that makes life worth living.
6. Mastery - The teenage years are actually the time in which certain areas of brain performance are at their absolute max. Developing what psychologists call a "growth mind-set" is a great tool for happiness. Instead of "I can't do it," think and say "I can't do it - YET." You are a human becoming and you can accomplish all wonder of things with persistence and grit.
7. Connection - During these years, it's normal to become more and more connected to your peers and rely less on your parents. Forging many relationships, different relationships (with classmates in different social spheres, people at church, camp or sports, etc.) can be a source of great mental strength. Forging these bonds away from screens is a good idea. Including others can make not only the other person happier, but can make you feel good too. Nobody feels good when someone is left out.
8. Mindfulness - Although the term is in danger of becoming fuzzy from overuse, a good definition is "paying attention on purpose, non-judgmentally and with intention." Unfortunately, the screen in our lives promote the opposite of this. Many resources such as books, websites and apps (such as Headspace, Insight Timer, Aura, etc.) exist and cultivating mindfulness can play a tremendous role in increasing happiness.
9. Kindness - As you get older, it's easier to note the imperfections of others - classmates, siblings, teachers and especially parents. However, making a point to be kind to all of those around you not only makes others happier, it can remarkably improve your own happiness. EVERYBODY responds well to kindness.
10. Gratitude - Although it may seem silly, finding things to be grateful for can have a big impact on happiness. Keeping a gratitude journal, saying "thank you" often, or writing notes of gratitude can be very positive. Striving to do this even more in times of stress is especially important. The things themselves that we can be grateful for can be large and small; it is the process of finding them, savoring them and remembering them that's important.
Keeping these 10 areas in mind, finding ways to promote and incorporate them that make sense for your life, can go a long, long way to having a better experience during your teenage years. However, if you feel you are sad pretty much all the time, especially if friendships, academics or favored activities are also suffering because of this, please talk to your parents and doctor.
From growing up to getting braces, popping pimples to catching some ZZZs, this website has articles that give you the basics on your teenage years.
Get to know J. Ben Worsley, M.D.
Dr. Worsley is a Cook Children's pediatrician at Southwest Harris Parkway. Dr. Worsley graduated with honors from Rice University in Houston, Texas, and received his medical degree at the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. His stay in Dallas would continue, as Dr. Worsley completed his internship and residency at Children’s Medical Center. He is board certified in pediatrics and his clinical interests include developmental pediatrics, asthma and allergies. Outside of the office, Dr. Ben enjoys spending time with his family, reading lots of books, meditating and trying to stay upright on his mountain bike. Cook Children's pediatricians at Southwest Harris Parkway are here to help you with well-child visits, vaccines, illnesses, behavior problems, learning disorders or answer questions all parents have. Learn more about their practice here.