In this post: Why teaching our kids that self-care is important and five self-care tips for teens.
My teenage daughter is a swimmer. She has had a passion for the sport since she was in 4th grade, and her commitment and dedication have been unwavering.
Young athletes put a lot of weight on their coach’s opinions, and my girl is a ‘people-pleaser’ and a ‘rule-follower’, so she will do just about anything not to miss a practice, and if she does, it’s for a good reason.
After weeks of a grueling new training schedule, I could tell she was getting run down.
In just a few days, we were leaving for a long weekend for an out-of-town meet where she would be swimming seventeen events over three days. As I went into her room at 5:00 am to wake her up for practice, it hit me:
She needed her sleep more than she needed to train.
I asked her if she could miss this practice so she could get some much-needed rest before the big weekend. She opened her eyes and groggily said, “Well, I haven’t missed one yet. Yeah, okay.” And rolled back over to sleep.
I offered her the option to take care of herself instead of going to practice.
It was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, her coach thought otherwise and told her she should have gone to practice.
Why is self-care so hard for teens?
Her coach’s response is precisely why self-care is one of the most important lessons we can teach our teenagers.
Often other people’s opinions of what we should do are based on their own motivations. Rarely are people looking out for what’s in our best interests, especially if it is counter to their agenda.
I don’t believe my daughter’s coach was in any way intentionally trying to act against what was right for her. He simply was running his team the way he felt was best. He was focused on the group as a whole and helping them to become better swimmers and to perform well at their upcoming meet.
He was only looking at my daughter as an athlete and not seeing my daughter from a holistic perspective.
What my daughter really needed was more sleep. At the rate she was going, she would either end up sick, suffer burnout, or be so exhausted she would let herself and her team down.
I realized my daughter needed to learn that there are times when you have to put yourself first and listen to your body’s signals.
The world only has one setting: Go Go Go. But sometimes, it’s okay for our teens to push the pause button. Teens and young adults need to know it’s okay to protect their mental health and well-being.
Why self-care is important for teens
Self-care is the practice of doing things for yourself to restore your well-being. It is a key tool in preventing disease, preserving your mental health, and living a happier and more well-balanced life.
Self-care is often confused with self-indulgence. Self-care is different for everyone and depends on your unique needs and preferences. For some adolescents, it may mean getting enough sleep, while for others it could mean downtime with friends, vegging out in front of Netflix for a few hours or doing something with a creative outlet. It could even mean therapy or counseling.
For teens today, there is so much pressure on them to perform, to keep pushing through every day no matter how tired, sick, or injured they are.
And in today’s world, it’s in almost every area of their lives from academics, sports and any other activities that are important to them. Plus, they are constantly being asked to meet everyone’s expectations; teachers, coaches, friends, romantic partners and parents.
Our teens worry about losing friends or facing harsh consequences for choosing to put their health before all these pressures and expectations.
It’s no wonder there is an epidemic of stress, anxiety, and depression among our young people.
We think of self-care as an adult issue.
But it is increasingly one that effects our tweens and teens.
They need to develop the ability to discern what is best for them in a world that rarely offers them that choice. They need to understand that taking care of themselves is a lifelong mission that needs to be a priority. They need to make self-care a habit and part of their daily routine in order to stave off mental health issues.
Because when they don’t put their health and well-being first, there can be serious consequences.
Self-care also builds self-esteem
Making their physical and mental health a priority in their lives isn’t always convenient, especially for other people. Sometimes putting themselves first means letting others down. People won’t always agree with them, and they might even get angry with them.
That is okay.
Our tweens and teens need to learn to tune out other’s voices and trust the one inside their own head telling them they need to slow down. They have to be strong enough even under extreme pressure to please others and ‘show up’ to honor their needs.
There are times when caring for their own well-being is more important than facing disappointment from others. Giving our teens the tools now to begin balancing their own needs with those of others will be invaluable.
And let’s be real, the demands from others will only increase as they get older.
Bosses, spouses and children will all want to be put first all the time. It’s something so many adults struggle to manage.
I know I do.
It takes time and practice to learn these valuable lessons about self-care, which is why I wanted to start teaching my daughter now.
She eventually worked through her worries about her coach’s opinion and felt assured that she made the right choice for her health.
But until then, I’ll keep reinforcing this important lesson in her life, but also by being a better role model when it comes to self-care in my own life.
Five Self-Care Tips for Teens
1. Schedule downtime
Most teens have a busy schedule, particularly in high school when they are focused on building their resumes, managing complex peer relationships, dealing with academics, working their first jobs, and navigating social pressures, all while facing distractions such as their smartphone, video games, and social media.
Scheduling some relaxation time to do something they enjoy that is not part of a structured activity is a great way for them to decompress.
2. Embrace meditation
You or your teen may think meditation is hokey, but it is one of the most powerful ways for our teens to protect their mental health and well-being. Meditation is a practice that involves focusing or clearing your mind using a combination of mental and physical techniques with the goal of relaxation or a tranquil mind. There are many different ways to practice it, from mantras, positive affirmations, and mindfulness to guided apps and visual-based meditation. Most importantly, it’s something you can do anywhere, at anytime, and it’s free!
While how much your teen sleeps has a lot to do with their brain science and body clock, most adolescents are not getting enough sleep. Help your teen to understand the importance of getting enough zzz’s and set up some guidelines to ensure it, such as keeping phones and gaming consoles out of their room at night, getting enough physical activity to feel tired, and trying to stay on a bedtime routine to keep their biological clocks in tact.
Sleep also has a major impact on your child’s mood and their ability to regulate their emotions (just like when they were toddlers!) If your teen is always complaining about feeling tired but does seem to be getting enough sleep, make sure you talk to a doctor as this also can be a sign of an illness such as anemia or even a mental health condition.
For some teens, middle or high school can be a lonely, anxiety-inducing experience. Helping your teen find connection from a variety of sources can be an important part of self-care. This may be bonding with a pet, participating in volunteer activities, giving them opportunities to bond with like-minded people outside of school, or spending time with trusted family members.
5. Get out in nature
This simple premise is the most underrated part of a person’s self-care routine. It is amazing what a 30-minute walk or hike, watching an amazing sunset, or deep breathing for a few minutes out in the fresh air can do for your mental state. Encourage your teen to keep using their bike whenever possible, take a long walk with their friend, or even go to an outdoor concert. Not only does this encourage them to put their phones down for a few minutes, but there is a growing body of science that proves that nature is good for our mental health and well-being.
Looking for other resources for self-care for teens? Here are a few of our favorite items:
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