6 Meaningful Ways to Be a Healthy Role Model
How to support the young people in your life
Kids today are in a mental health crisis. Over 40% of high school students experience signs of depression, and a third of adolescents struggle with anxiety. Many factors in a changing world are impacting young people’s mental health, but we often overlook how significantly kids are impacted by their parents and adult caregivers. The kids are not alright. But neither are the adults.
Adults are also in crisis and, despite this, continue to best provide for children and their families with courage and grace. We know many have lost jobs, face rising rates of substance abuse, continuing economic uncertainty, and experience depression and anxiety. The same CDC research that identified the prevalence of mental illness among young people also found that 55% of 12 to 18-year-olds experience increased emotional stress by witnessing stress from grown-ups at home—four times more than reported emotional stress, and sometimes, abuse than less than a decade ago.
The aftermath of the pandemic and a widely changing world are negatively impacting adults, which also affects kids. Stressors in our lives may negatively impact the way we react to the children in our lives, and we may not always realize that our responses are harmful. It’s important to take care of yourself, not only for yourself but for the well-being of those who look up to you and rely on you.
Many parents and caregivers get accustomed to putting everyone else’s needs above their own. But when you struggle with stress, anxiety, or depression, you can’t take care of others you love. The core of being a healthy role model isn’t just about how you treat others. It’s about how you treat yourself. Check out these six tips for becoming the healthiest you and in turn, fostering healthier relationships with the young people in your life.
1. Take care of yourself first
Every time you get on an airplane, you hear the same instruction: put on your oxygen mask before helping others. The idea has become somewhat of a cliche, but that’s because it’s true. You can’t show up for the people you love if you’re not taking care of yourself. Be honest with yourself about where and when you’re struggling. Start small. Whether your budget is $5 or $500, make one small change in your week that makes your body or mind just one step healthier.
2. Connect with community
Adults need friends and community just as much as kids do. The older we get, the easier it is to lose our social connections. Connecting with others gives us a sense of purpose, belonging, and a place to turn when we need help. Reconnect with old friends you’ve fallen out of touch with. Join a community class or service project about something you’re interested in. Volunteer. Show the young people in your life that you prioritize community and connection, and they can too.
3. Treat others with respect
It’s easy for the stress of your own life to interfere with how you interact with others. You might find yourself easily frustrated by strangers in the checkout line, or going through the motions of your conversations with old friends. Practice taking a deep breath and remember that everyone is just trying to get through their days, too. Then treat them with the respect and grace you would want to receive. When you take an extra moment to think about others, you show your kids the perspective that comes from looking outside yourself and your own point of view.
4. Prioritize strong communication
One of the first things to falter during difficult times is our ability to communicate how we are feeling, even with those we are closest to. Practice strong communication skills at all times, so they’re ready for you when you really need them. That means asking genuine questions and answering them honestly. Honest communication is vulnerable, and that can feel frightening. But it relieves the burden of keeping everything bottled up. Teaching communication skills to your teens and kids gives them the tools they need to connect, instead of isolating themselves.
5. Model overcoming obstacles
Being a teenager or child can feel overwhelming. Whether it’s a difficult math class or an emotional response to the big issues facing our world, it’s easy for challenges to feel insurmountable. Show the young people in your life that life isn’t always easy, but you can always take steps to break down obstacles. This doesn’t mean solving every problem or ignoring the reality of hardship. But when you take action, even in small ways, to make tough situations better, you improve your life and show others what is possible.
6. Know when to ask for help
Nobody succeeds and thrives alone. You are not perfect, and you don’t have to be. Letting your children see you falter, have questions, and seek help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of resilience. It lets them know that, just like you, young people will never have all the answers, but they are also never alone.
It’s hard not to worry about the mental health crisis facing our young people. But in addition to supporting them, we can also help them by helping ourselves. Take stock of how you are showing up as a parent, teacher, mentor, relative, or friend. Check in on your friends and community. When we are healthier and happier, our kids are healthier and happier. Be the kind of role model that young people can not only look up to, but that they can also learn from.
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