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Program guides parents, teachers through boosting teen mental health

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Feb 3, 2023

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Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital has developed a program, called Talk to Tweens, to support the emotional well-being of young teens.

The rate of anxiety and depression has been steadily increasing among Utah youth since 2021.

According to health.utah.gov, 39.8% of students in grades eight, 10 and 12 in the Weber-Morgan district reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row in 2021, which are the latest available figures. Other figures included Davis County at 31.3%, Utah County at 33.2% and Bear River at 29.7% of students in the same grades feeling sad or hopeless.

To help address the growing problem and help youth move into their teenage years with good emotional health, Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital has developed a program to support the emotional well-being of young teens. The free program, entitled Talk to Tweens, is part of the hospital’s “Hold On To Dear Life” safety initiative and is now available to parents and school teachers.

The program offers teachers and parents tools and tips to nurture middle school-aged children as they grow into adolescents. They include conversation starter ideas, the “Hacking Emotional Health” workbook, the Feelings Wheel and tips on how to use it, and videos voiced by Jocelyn Osmond, Utah’s Miss Outstanding Teen and host of the KSL podcast “Teen Talk.”

“We know that mental health of children has been compromised over the pandemic and that many parents are not sure how to address this at home,” said Jessica Strong, director of community health at Primary Children’s Hospital. “The Talk to Tweens program gives parents and teachers tools on how to start conversations about mental health with tweens and help kids identify, express and manage their feelings in healthy ways.”

Strong said the program gives parents and teachers action-oriented tools to use to help promote mental, emotional and social health within their families and school communities.

“Just like you helped your child learn to tie their shoes, there are things you can do to teach emotional well-being to your young teenager,” she said.

Some of the tips for parents and teachers to support tweens that are taught through the program include:

Starting a helpful conversation

  • Identify: Look for cues that your child is experiencing emotions, and use the opportunity to help them name the feeling. The Feelings Wheel provides more than 50 emotions as a starting point for discussion. Allow the child to define their own feelings, while you listen quietly and offer suggestions — but only if they get stuck.
  • Accept: Don’t try to shield or rush your child through uncomfortable feelings. Allow kids to sit with an uncomfortable feeling to help prepare them for the next time the feeling occurs. Understanding and accepting that all feelings are valuable will help children accept emotions as natural — and take their first step to managing the effects of their feelings.
  • Validate: Acknowledge your child’s experience and feelings without judgment, even if you disagree with their views. Helping the tween feel heard and understood will help create open dialogue. Consider your tween’s experiences and how it may contribute to the feelings they are having. Create a safe space for them to open up about their emotions, to unburden their mind, and be supportive as they figure out their next step.

Promote social health

Talk with your tween about what makes a healthy relationship, including mutual respect, trust, honesty, compromise and communication. Continue building your own relationship with your tween through family time, even as peers become more important to your tween.

Encourage your tween to have face-to-face communication with others to build positive social skills. Coach active listening skills such as eye contact, putting down devices and polite disagreement. When a relationship is ending, help your tween practice ways to disagree appropriately, manage emotions and work toward conflict resolution.

Getting one-word answers?

If a tween won’t give more than a one-word answer, try these tips:

  • Be patient and comfortable with silence.
  • Use open-ended questions.
  • Consider timing when kids are relaxed, such as mealtime or in the car.
  • Start questions with “tell me” or “describe” instead of “how.”
  • Use humor when appropriate.
  • Be supportive and remind them that disappointment is normal and OK.

Free, downloadable resources are available at TalkToTweens.org and in Spanish at hableconsusjovenes.org.


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