by ELIZABETH TUCKEY
This week I became the mother of a teenager.
As certain as death and taxes, when someone finds out you have a teenager (or soon to be) you will be bombarded with comments like “wait for the trouble to start” or “poor you” or “don’t expect anything but grunts for the next five years”. By all accounts when a 12-year old hits the magic 13, all hell breaks loose.
Now I’m only a few days into being a mother of a teenager as I write this, but when my daughter emerged from her bedroom this morning she hadn’t grown a set of horns. She gave me her usual huge hug and kiss good morning. Mind you, her hair did seem a bit more unruly than normal, so perhaps the change has begun.
Being a parent is by far the most difficult thing I have ever done. Don’t get me wrong. I am lucky to have three amazing kids (daughter 13, son 10 and daughter 6 going on 27) who cause me no heartburn, they love school, do their chores without complaint and eat their vegetables . But how a child behaves, in my mind, is the least of my concerns. My philosophy has always been that if they see positive behaviour around them, then that’s what becomes the “norm” for them.
The thing that literally keeps me awake at night is worrying whether my kids are going to be OK. Working at the National Youth Mental Health Foundation headspace for the last nearly three years has been both a blessing and a curse.
A blessing because I know what’s available to young people who need help and my awareness about youth mental health has increased tenfold. I feel far more equipped to face the challenges my kids will go through than ever before.
But every day I also see or hear stories of young people who are struggling, who feel isolated, who turn to drugs and alcohol to cope or, at its worst, don’t cope and take their own life. And it’s those stories that frighten me. One in four deaths in young people under the age of 25 is through suicide. It’s sobering to think that my teenage daughter is highly likely to lose at least one of her friends in this way before she reaches Year 12. These things scare parents.
At a focus group headspace did with parents a short while ago we asked them how they talked with their kids about mental health issues and if they felt their kids were honest about their feelings. Almost every parent said that while they weren’t sure what to say, they felt their children told them everything anyway. We asked the same question of their kids. Their answers were the complete opposite. They rarely told their parents about their feelings.