What I didn't know about our teenagers
Special to Stars and Stripes August 1, 2021
I always believed that, despite my various flaws (one eye bulges out more than the other), weaknesses (I’m a bit of a hoarder), and annoying behaviors (I talk too much), I’ve been a terrific mom. But now that my three children are in their 20s and flying the coop, I’m looking back and wondering, “Maybe I wasn’t so great after all?”
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, let me report that all three of our children are doing very well with work, school, independence and friendships. Our children have compassion, character, ambition, moral values and best of all, great senses of humor. My Navy veteran husband and I couldn’t be more proud as their parents.
But as I reflect on their childhoods (as peri-menopausal mothers who are almost empty nesters tend to do), I see that our kids struggled during their teen years. Our son was in his second high school as a junior when we informed him we were moving again. He yelled, “I won’t go!” Soon after, we noticed that he had started lying, ignoring classwork and stuttering. Our middle child experienced nausea when she was stressed, and was diagnosed with anxiety in her teens. As a teen, our happy-go-lucky youngest daughter developed depression.
Our children have overcome their issues with our help, but looking back, I wish I had known more BEFORE their mental health issues surfaced. There were things about teenagers I probably didn’t understand, red flags I might have missed, conversations I wish I’d initiated.
“Hindsight is 20-20,” they say — whoever “they” are — but they also say, “Knowledge is power.” In retrospect, I see that I was a loving, attentive mother, but I didn’t know enough about teenage mental health.
Recently, I “zoomed” (I’m pretty sure that’s a verb nowadays) into the Military Child Education Coalition’s National Training Seminar, a virtual conference, July 19-21, offering informative sessions for educators, professionals and parents about educating military children. I multitasked while listening some sessions, but on the third day, I found myself drawn into one particular lecture titled, “Mental Health Challenges - Resources for Parents” taught by MCEC’s Melanie Douglas, Happy Garner and Louise Webb, along with The Barry Robinson Center’s Lisa Howard.
I gobbled the information as fast as the lecturers could present it. Scribbling on our daughter’s abandoned notebook, I learned:
• why activity and academic schedules can rob adolescent brains of the extra sleep they need for proper growth and maturity;
• why all normal teens exhibit independence-seeking behaviors, such as placing less importance on family bonds and more importance on social or peer bonds;
• what factors contribute to mental health issues in teens, such as family history, childhood experiences, surroundings, and inherited conditions;
• how to identify “red flags” and why it depends upon the context;
• why military teen dependents are at greater risk of developing mental health issues, due to stressors such as relocations, separations, reintegrations, family dynamics, changing schools, worries about money and the affect of military culture on a teen’s sense of belonging;
• how to use the “Wheel of Emotions” and other resources to increase a child’s emotional intelligence;
• where to find the many mental health support resources available to military families.
It was a deluge of the relevant, necessary, helpful information that I’d been missing, all squished into a one-hour Zoom call. The data, tips and guidance I gleaned from the MCEC National Training Seminar session on teenagers’ mental health challenges would have made a difference in how I parented my kids when they were teens.
As I learned in the lecture, mental health problems are the most common disability for teenagers today, and military children are at a significantly increased risk. Adolescent development and teenage mental health is an incredibly complex and important issue. Parents need to arm themselves with information and avail themselves of resources to negotiate this tricky stage of child development.
I regret that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I want today’s military parents of teens to be armed with the knowledge and resources that I was missing. It could make a difference, and as they say, “Knowledge is power.”
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org