We are in the midst of a pediatric mental health crisis — and parents need to take action.
Over the past couple of years, the pandemic has not only killed hundreds of thousands; it has also shut us inside, cut off social contacts, and take parents out of work and children out of school. The consequences have been tremendous. And one of those consequences is that we are seeing alarming amounts of anxiety and depression in our children and teens.
A national emergency among children and teens
In the fall of 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics along with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. They called for increased funding for mental health resources, as well as other actions, including more integration of mental health care into schools and primary care, more community-based systems to connect people to mental health programs, strategies to increase the number of mental health providers, and ensuring that there is the insurance coverage of mental health care.
These are all necessary, and efforts to ensure them are ongoing. But while we work to build mental health care systems, there are things that parents can do to help their children through this crisis.
Mental health is just as important as physical health
First and foremost, we must understand that. If a child has a fever or a persistent cough, parents react — they pay attention and reach out for help. But if a child seems sad or irritable, or less interested in activities they used to enjoy, they tend to think of it as a phase, or teen angst, or something else that can be ignored. The mental health of our children is crucial. Not only does mental health affect physical health, but untreated mental health problems interfere with learning, socialization, self-esteem, and other important aspects of child development that can have lifelong repercussions. And for some children, untreated mental health problems lead to suicide.
So pay attention, and take what you see seriously. If your child is showing signs of anxiety or depression, call your doctor. Don’t put it off. If your child talks about harming themself or others, get help immediately, such as by going to your local emergency room. In this situation, it’s better to overreact than underreact.
Create rituals of communication and safe spaces to talk
It’s easy to lose connection with our children, especially our teens. Whether it’s family dinner, family game night, talking on the ride to school, or a nightly check-in before bed, having regular times to ask open-ended questions and to listen to your children is important.
Make sure your child has downtime
We all need this, and children particularly need it. Be sure they aren’t overscheduled; make sure that there is time for them to do things they enjoy.
Encourage healthy media habits
One of the things kids enjoy these days is being on their devices, which can be fun and connect them to friends, but can also contribute to problems with mental health. Talk to your child about how they use media. Common Sense Media has a wealth of useful information.
Make sure your child is getting enough sleep — and some exercise
Keep in touch with teachers, coaches, and other adults in your child’s life
Not only may they have information about your child that you need, but they can also play an important supportive role. Open lines of communication with them can make a difference — and help to create community, which we all need, especially now.
Try to make your home a judgment-free safe haven
This doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t have expectations about behavior or grades. But you can have expectations without judgment; you can and should let your child know that you love them no matter what, that they can say what they feel, and that you will always help them. Do your best to listen more than you talk; be empathetic and forgiving. To be genuine about that, you will need to be empathetic and forgiving toward everyone, including yourself.
Pay attention to your own mental health
Children pay more attention to what parents do than what they say. If you are clearly struggling with anxiety or depression, and aren’t doing anything about it, that sends the wrong message to your children. It also makes it hard to be a good parent.
If we take care of each other and ourselves, we can weather this storm.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? (Genesis 18:24) And the Lord replied, “If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.” (Genesis 18:26)
And be sure to say, ‘Look, your servant Jacob is right behind us.’” Jacob thought, “I will try to appease him by sending gifts ahead of me. When I see him in person, perhaps he will be friendly to me.” (Genesis 32:20)
to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. (Genesis 50:17)
“Forgive my sin, just this once, and plead with the Lord your God to take away this death from me.” (Exodus 10:17)
Pay close attention to him, and obey his instructions. Do not rebel against him, for he is my representative, and he will not forgive your rebellion. (Exodus 23:21)
Moses Intercedes for Israel The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the Lord on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness for your sin.” (Exodus 32:30) So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves. (Exodus 32:31) But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!” (Exodus 32:32)
The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6) I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:7)
And he said, “O Lord, if it is true that I have found favor with you, then please travel with us. Yes, this is a stubborn and rebellious people, but please forgive our iniquity and our sins. Claim us as your own special possession.” (Exodus 34:9)
just as he does with the bull offered as a sin offering for the high priest. Through this process, the priest will purify the people, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:20) Then he must burn all the goat’s fat on the altar, just as he does with the peace offering. Through this process, the priest will purify the leader from his sin, making him right with the Lord, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:26)
Then he must remove all the goat’s fat, just as he does with the fat of the peace offering. He will burn the fat on the altar, and it will be a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Through this process, the priest will purify the people, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:31) Then he must remove all the sheep’s fat, just as he does with the fat of a sheep presented as a peace offering. He will burn the fat on the altar on top of the special gifts presented to the Lord. Through this process, the priest will purify the people from their sin, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:35)
The priest will then prepare the second bird as a burnt offering, following all the procedures that have been prescribed. Through this process the priest will purify you from your sin, making you right with the Lord, and you will be forgiven. (Leviticus 5:10) Through this process, the priest will purify those who are guilty of any of these sins, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. The rest of the flour will belong to the priest, just as with the grain offering.” (Leviticus 5:13)
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