Your Teens Might Need a Mental Health Break Just as Much as You Do

From recent personal experience, a teenager shares the importance of taking a break to disconnect from the media and activism in this Teen Talk column.

Teen in yoga class
Photo: Illustration by Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

With media coverage of protests for social and racial justice, politics, and school shootings, teenager's mental health can take a negative toll. Many teens and youth across the country have spent a lot of time being involved in various movements as activists or supporters. They have been spreading awareness, donating money, volunteering, protesting, and creating policy change for several social injustices such as the Black Lives Matter movement to end police brutality and white supremacy. It's so inspiring to watch my fellow teenagers get so involved, but I know first-hand that non-stop events can feel overwhelming.

Teens are constantly submerged into the media to ensure that they are up to date with information pertaining to the movements and ongoing concerns like COVID-19. Information on the internet travels at about two-thirds of the speed of light in a vacuum—that's insanely fast! Yet, teens may feel pressured or compelled to stay updated on this information. Everything is changing 24/7 but that doesn't mean you have to be there to listen 24/7.

From recent personal experience, I've learned the importance of taking a mental health break and allowing yourself to indulge in self-care activities to continue to showcase your best self. Here's why it's important to take a mental health break and how to help your teen disconnect.

The News Can Be Triggering

It is so important to take mental breaks from the news and social media, given the current circumstances, because it can become traumatic after watching several negative headlines, especially if any of them are relatable.

Once I heard about the horrific death of George Floyd, my heart sank. I was full of emotions ranging from anger, disappointment, frustration, and confusion. As more information and more headlines arose, the more engaged and eager I was to watch the news and social media about social injustices. I began to watch various news channels for elongated periods of time instead of entertainment channels with my family. All of the conversations that I initiated were about police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, Black-owned business, Black awareness, or the history of oppression of African Americans.

I woke up breathing and eating the media and the movement for at least a month. That is until my mother brought it to my attention on a daily basis. She reminded me of things on my to-do list that I had pushed back for a month. She also pointed out each time I watched the news. Within two weeks, I realized that I truly needed to find a balance. Therefore, I went two days without a phone and television to pamper myself with doing activities that I like to do such as painting, dancing, and walking, which allowed my mind and body to recharge.

Give Teens Permission to Take a Break

Sometimes teens don't realize that they have been consumed by the movement, media, and news. I know I didn't. An easy way to recognize if your teen has made their life all about the movement or the media is by asking them how they are feeling. I often check in with myself and question, "Have I been in touch with my friends or family in a while?" If I realize the answer is no, I then ask, "Have I allowed the media and the movement to consume my daily routines?'

To find a balance, teens must give themselves permission to take a mental break, and that permission can be encouraged by you, their parents. Nearly 90 percent of mental health workers take a mental health break by seeking personal therapy through self-care activities, which are activities that you do purposefully to take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health. Indeed, it's a simple idea—yet, we often overlook it.

A great way to guide your teen and to help them remind themselves of the importance of a mental health break is by spending quality time together. Suggest taking a family walk, setting up an at-home spa day, or trying a new virtual workout class. Simply do activities that you both like, outside of supporting the movement.

Parents Can Lead Teens to a Balanced Life

Parents can help guide teens into a balanced lifestyle with the media and the movement by sharing tips and tricks with your teen. The first tip is to bring the "obsession" to your teen's attention, similar to how my mom did for me. Once we constantly hear someone telling us that we are spending too much time on one topic, we will eventually get the memo. Secondly, understanding the why and the importance of the movement and the media from your teen's perspective can help parents begin the conversation of encouraging them to take mental breaks to prevent burnout.

During the conversation do not sound aggressive or overbearing because teens will become defensive instead of taking a necessary educational viewpoint away from the discussion. Lastly, parents must know the importance of self-care! Practicing self-care reduces anxiety, increases confidence and self-esteem, and increases your dopamine, which is the scientific name for those feel-good chemicals. Remind your teen that discovering a balance between their intake on media or support for the movement and their daily routines can improve their mental health and overall impact to the movement. Once refreshed, they'll be sharing an all-around healthy version of themselves to the world.

Dasia Bandy is an 18-year-old military child. She recently graduated from Grassfield High School's STEM Academy and plans to attend college in the fall. Bandy is passionate about creating an environment for leaders to emerge and the fight for mental health equality. She's determined to make a difference.

Read more Teen Talk columns here.

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