What we can do to help teens in our lives
Did you know 70% of deaths among CT youth ages 15 - 19 are preventable? According to the CT Department of Public Health, 25% of deaths are caused by car accidents, nearly 17% are suicides, 14% are homicides and nearly 15% are unintentional injuries (overdoses, accidents, etc.). Mental health and substance use can play a role in any of these causes. We want to provide you with the facts and practical things you can do to help teens in your life, even if they aren’t your own child.
What the Data Shows
Every year, the state conducts a school health survey among high school students. The results from the last survey showed 70% of students reported their mental health was “not good” in the last month. One-third of students felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more, but only 25% of those who felt that way get help. When asked about self-injury and thoughts of suicide, in a classroom of 30, 15.4% or 4-5 students purposely hurt themselves without wanting to die and 12.7% or four students seriously considered suicide. Two students out of 30 or 6.7% attempted suicide.
When it comes to substance use, vaping is a major concern in the high school population. In a classroom of 30, nearly half (44.8% or 13 students) have ever tried e-cigarettes or vaping, while 27% or 8 students have reported vaping in the past month. The use of vaping products in this population has increased from 2.4% in 2011 to 27% in 2019. Half of the students who have used tobacco products reported that the first product they ever tried was a vape.
The same survey showed in a classroom of 30:
25.9% or 8 students currently drink alcohol and 12.9% or 4 students reported binge drinking in the last month.
10.1% or 3 students have ever abused a prescription drug.
35.9% or 11 students have ever used marijuana in the last month and 21.7% or 6-7 students used marijuana in the last month.
A little more than one quarter (25.4% or 8 students) gambled in the past year.
These numbers are particularly concerning because students who have tried any type of drug are 2.2X more likely to hurt themselves, 2.9X more likely to seriously consider suicide and 5.3X more likely to make an attempt.
Support & Connection are Protective Factors
While 80% of students reported feeling loved and supported by their family and two-thirds said they had at least one adult in their lives they could talk to, there are students who lack that support. Those who don’t have family or other adults in their lives that they feel connected to are more likely to hurt themselves or seriously consider and attempt suicide.
So, what can you do to help teens? Remember, even if you aren’t a parent, you can be a positive influence in a kid’s life. Teachers, coaches, mentors, relatives and friends can all make a difference.
Here are 8 ways to connect with and support teens:
Be a good listener: You are curious about what’s going on in your kid’s life, but when you ask question after question, it’s easy to feel like it’s an interrogation instead of a conversation. Instead, take a step back and listen. Kids are more likely to share when they don’t feel pressure to talk. When you do ask questions, ask open-ended ones. When you ask yes or no questions, you will most likely get those one-word answers, which don’t give you much information.
Don’t downplay their feelings: When your teen expresses their feelings, make sure you validate them. Although something doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, it can feel overwhelming to them. For example, if they don’t make the sports team they were trying out for, instead of brushing it off and telling them they can try again next year, you can validate how they feel by saying “That is so disappointing, I know you really wanted to make the team.”
Show them you trust them: You can give your kids more confidence by trusting them. It could be letting them go somewhere on their own or giving them a new privilege. Make sure they know what the expectations are and give them the opportunity to show you that they can hold up their end of the bargain.
Find the positives: When kids are young, we praise all of their accomplishments. Don’t forget your teen is still looking for approval too. Instead of only telling them what they are doing wrong, make it a point to identify what they’re doing right. Thank them for being kind to their sibling that day or for taking out the trash without being asked. This behavior helps to strengthen the relationship because they don’t view you as constantly nagging them.
Model good behavior: If you let your temper get the best of you, your kids will see that as an example for how to behave in tense situations. Take a break and walk away if you need to. If you do lose your temper, it’s ok; we all do at times. Just come back when you’re calm, acknowledge your behavior and apologize. That shows them we are all human.
Eat meals together often: It’s great if you can eat dinner as a family every night, but that can be challenging for many, so aim for a few days a week. Make a no phone at the table rule and focus on having casual conversations. When kids feel comfortable talking about ordinary things like TV shows or something that happened in their day, they are more likely to turn to you when they are facing bigger challenges.
Do something fun together: Even if you can’t do many family meals, make it a point to do things the whole family enjoys. It could be going to the movies, baking, doing a sport or even walking the dog. You don’t have to talk about anything in particular; just focus on enjoying each other’s company.
Visit our website for links to helpful resources for kids of all ages.