10/08/2014 09:08 EDT | Updated 12/08/2014 05:59 EST

Sometimes Kids Just Need to Be Heard

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"One of the greatest paradoxes of the modern world is that while material well-being and physical health have dramatically improved, the mental health of young people in transition from childhood to adulthood has been steadily declining..."

- Patrick D. Mcgorry, MD, PhD

We know that about one out of every five young people will struggle with mental illness, like diagnosed depression and anxiety, and 100 per cent of kids will at some time experience the challenges of everyday life and the first experiences that come with growing up.

Young people today experience pressure in many aspects of their lives, from school to sports, from extra-curricular activities to parental and societal expectations.

Consumer culture, technology, and pressure to perform and succeed against all odds -- regardless of a young person's social and economic challenges, barriers, and uncertainties -- can negatively impact young people's mental health, self-esteem, and overall well-being.

When the pressures to succeed, compete, and conform exceed a young person's ability to cope, youth -- especially teenagers -- can feel hopeless. Goals and problems can start to seem too big, and solutions can seem out of reach, or altogether elusive. For a youth, this can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and powerless, unable to determine their next steps in a situation.

Everyone faces uncertainty from time to time, but without a strong support system, a young person's well-being can erode.

We all struggle

Part of the work of becoming an adult is learning to set realistic goals, and to adapt unrealistic ones in order to make them achievable.

Helping a young person see the small steps they need to take to get to where they want to be, or how they can overcome a struggle, can help them understand how they can influence their own outcomes.

Part of coping with many of life's situations involves reaching out to others for support, and having strong support networks, including parents, can help young people find the hope and help they need to move forward.

We all struggle, and we all need help sometimes - but sometimes we also need to be reminded that it's okay to ask for it. By developing strong connections with the young people in your life and letting them know that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, you can help them build trust, self-esteem, and resiliency.

You don't have to have all the answers

Parents often think that they have to have an immediate answer or solution at their fingertips, but sometimes all a kid needs is to be heard.

When we listen to young people without interrupting, it helps them feel understood and it validates their feelings by making them feel less alone in whatever they may be coping with.

Helping a young person develop connections with other people in their lives -- such as a coach, guidance counsellor, teacher, or mentor -- can also empower them to seek help when they need it. Let kids know that support can come from different sources.

If a young person in your life needs additional support, help them get informed about services available to them. Offer to help them talk to their family doctor, or research counselling or other options with them.

By respecting young people's choices and interacting with them in ways that are conscious, positive, and productive, we make space or "give permission" for kids to talk about their feelings.

This, in turn, gives young people hope, builds resiliency, and encourages help-seeking - all important components in supporting youth mental health and well-being, neither of which anyone can achieve in isolation.

It's something we're all in together.


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