Your teen, culture and wellbeing

mother and son talking at table

Every culture has its own traditions that make it unique, but the importance of caring for family is valued worldwide. While this includes looking after each other physically, supporting a family member's mental wellbeing is just as important as it affects their ability to maintain meaningful relationships, cope with the stresses of life, and feel productive and satisfied.

Being part of a supportive family is especially important for teenagers, who are going through a period of constant change in terms of their bodies, social lives, interests and school work. As a parent, you may not always understand what your teen is going through or agree with the choices they make, but there are various ways you can still support them, including some strategies that are guided by your own culture.

Worries and doubts are normal

Every parent has hopes and dreams for their child, so it’s natural to worry when your teen is going through a difficult time. Sometimes people have concerns that a mental health issue is a sign of failure, or that it’s the start of a downward spiral into alcohol, drugs, behavioural problems or homelessness. But with the right support from the people around them, there’s no reason why your teen can’t get through a tough time and go on to have a happy and successful life.

Sharing your cultural approach to wellbeing

How do you find contentment and emotional wellbeing in your culture? All cultural and religious groups have a slightly different approach to mental health and happiness. For example, in Buddhism, meditation is an important practice for transforming the mind. In Japan the concept of ikigai, which means ‘reason for being’, is used as a way to find purpose and satisfaction in life. In Turkey, keyif is the enjoyment of doing nothing.

These concepts each take a different route to personal happiness, showing that there’s no right, or wrong, or ‘better’ way to develop good mental health. Take what you already know and are familiar with from your culture, and share that with your teen. Not only are you helping them by offering a tool they can use to feel better, but you’re also teaching them more about their heritage.

Embracing family traditions

If your culture has particular traditions that bring the family together on a regular basis, these bonding moments could contribute to your teen’s mental wellbeing. They can promote a feeling of closeness within the family and may help your teen feel supported by all their family members. Encouraging comfortable family settings may also give them more confidence in sharing their thoughts and feelings, particularly if they’re having a difficult time.

Some examples might include:

  • sharing mealtimes, or having special weekly gatherings over food, such as yum cha in Chinese cultures or couscous in North African cultures

  • celebrating cultural festivals

  • visiting places of worship together

  • spending time with extended family members

  • participating in cultural groups/organisations

  • continuing to look after each other even after the child has moved out.

Connecting one-on-one with your teen

As your teenager develops independence, you can help them feel supported by nourishing the relationship between the two of you. Spend time together doing something that interests them, or even just take a few minutes to chat with each other every day.

Just like adults, all teenagers express themselves differently. Some may be very open about their experiences and emotions, while others may try to hide their feelings. In either case, if you sense that your teen isn’t their usual self, you may need to lead the conversation around to mental health. As an adult with more maturity, you’re more likely to be in a better place to get the ball rolling with the discussion than your teenager, who might be dealing with the stresses of young adulthood.

It’s okay to need some extra support

Ask them some questions about what’s going on in their school, work or social life, and listen to what they have to say about what might be bringing them down. If they need some support with their mental health, you can use your life experience to give them advice or guide them towards where they can get more help, such as online resources, or professional support from a GP, psychologist or school counsellor. Getting help early gives your teen the best chance of getting better.

Some parents might be anxious about being judged by their community, but these matters can be kept private, as any professional support your teen might receive will remain confidential. Depending on how comfortable your teen is, they might choose to talk about what they’re going through with just a few people, or they might be very open about it. Let them make that choice and respect their decision.

At the end of the day, every parent wants the best for their child’s health. Using your cultural knowledge and traditions is one practical way to assist your teen with their mental wellbeing.