Teen girls are really suffering right now. Here’s what their adult loved ones can do to support them.

In the midst of the COVID pandemic, feelings of extreme sadness and trauma are at an all-time high among teen girls in the U.S. along with increasing rates of violence. A 2021 study developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that approximately 60% of female high school students endured feelings of hopelessness within the past year.

In this demographic, around 1 in 3 admitted to considering attempting suicide. A decrease in face-to-face interactions with peers due to the pandemic, inflated social media use, higher rates of violence, and gender discrimination are among some of the main contributing factors.

Communicating such strong emotions proves to be an overwhelming feat for many teens, with some reporting hesitation to speak openly with adults for fear that their concerns will be regarded as insignificant. Creating a safe space for dialogue in the home encourages children to speak freely, which may lead to needed conversations.

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“Oftentimes, we’re so focused on being in a parental role, we don’t create an environment where our children feel like they can come to us about things like that,” says Makebia Rorie, a social worker with over 16 years of experience working with adolescents, teens, and adults based in Charlotte, N.C. “I’m not going to judge you. I’m not going to attack you. I may not like what you say as a parent, but I still need to make you feel safe enough to be able to tell me anything so that we can address what it is.”

It’s such disheartening news, but as Women’s History month continues, we sought advice from two clinical social workers to get their input on how to help the nation’s youngest women. This is what they said:

Meet them where they’re at and ask questions

Navigating mental health concerns may include complex terminology and phrases. Breaking these expressions down into language that teens use regularly and understand can enhance their comprehension.

Chase Cassine, a New Orleans social worker and psychotherapist who primarily works with children and adolescents, recommends meeting teens on their level and utilizing elements like lingo and a culture-centered approach to building a stronger parent-child relationship.

“I use songs like ‘Cranes in the Sky’ because it’s where she did all those things to suppress what she was feeling to escape, but she was still depressed,” Cassine said. “We have to talk about these things even if they make us feel uncomfortable.”

With newer age issues, like social media use and addiction, adults who grew up in times of little to no social media can lack knowledge of how to deal with problems that arise from its usage.

Rorie suggests a hands-on approach. “Sit down and go on social media with your child. Ask questions like ‘What interests you? When you see that, how does it make you feel, or what do you think? Just get into why it’s captivating to your teen.” Operational knowledge of media literacy can help to bridge the gap between today’s generation of teens and their parents.

Cassine shares the same sentiment in believing adults and teens would benefit from collaborative interactions around social media. “Education. We have to be where the kids are because what we don’t want to do is be so far removed.”

Cut back on social media

Excessive internet usage also means more exposure to cyberbullying and unrealistic beauty standards, both of which provoke low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction. Rorie notes that forging a child’s self-image is partially the duty of the parents. “The culture that’s promoted on social media, it’s not realistic. It’s a parent’s responsibility to build that self-esteem as children are growing.”

This proves especially true in an era where many youths tie their value and worth to likes and interactions. Cassine prompts parents to explain in-depth that social media does not always portray a full story. “It’s more than just what meets the eye.”

As more research and data emerge around social media use, some are against its use for children under a specific age entirely. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy suggests that social media should not be consumed by children under the age of 14. He argues that at this stage in adolescence, kids are extremely impressionable and unable to analyze and distinguish acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.

Kids are still “developing their identity, their sense of self,” Murthy said on CNN’s “Newsroom” on Jan. 29. “The skewed, and often distorted, environment of social media often does a disservice to many of those children.”

Some social media trends and topics, like fitness, may present as encouraging a healthier lifestyle but in actuality place importance on physical looks as opposed to overall well being. With many teens valuing engagement and equating it with social status, constantly comparing themselves to others can result in an inaccurate self-perception and other undesirable feelings like depression, according to Mitch Prinstein, the chief science officer at the American Psychological Association, who gave a 22-page testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.

Read More: Parents: Wait until your kids are 16 to let them use social media, says surgeon general

Pay attention and seek professional help

Parents who notice that their teen is displaying emotional changes, like low self-esteem and criticism, irritability, and reduced interest, as well as behavioral changes, like isolation, fluctuations in sleep patterns, and poor hygiene, are recommended to seek professional help at the onset.

“If this is out of the normal baseline for your child, usually we go with the rule of persistent meaning 2 weeks or more, we need to get that assessed,” said Cassine. As mental health problems are presently the most prevalent contributing factor to disabilities worldwide, any medical or physical issues should also be addressed with a teen’s primary care physician or doctor. “If medical [care] has been ruled out, seek professional help with a mental health provider.”

Along with solo therapy sessions, family therapy can provide parents with tools to continue these conversations within the home. A group setting can allow teens to witness their parents in a more vulnerable state.

“When parents are able to be an example of how to deal with situations and be able to explain things that may affect them, it teaches their children how to handle those things,” Rorie expresses.

Validating all emotional states to normalize both positive and negative feelings will aid in the progression of connecting with teens on their individual levels and promote spaces where teens are willing to candidly express themselves and are open to receiving assistance.

Actively working to maintain a strong connection between parent and teen is essential in opening lines of communication within the relationship. Though it can be challenging, proceeding with difficult conversations and seeking additional support after identifying red flags in a child’s demeanor can aid in reducing negative feelings and promote a more positive outlook.

Jazmin Towe is a speech therapy advocate, editor, and journalist. Her work, covering topics ranging from mental health and emotional literacy to suicide prevention, racial disparities, parenting, and education has appeared in Romper, Verywell Family, Parents Magazine, and SheKnows. Family-oriented and with a strong passion for early childhood education and development, she serves as the Family Ambassador for her son’s elementary school.

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