What about teenagers mental fitness? A thought to address!

What about teenagers' mental fitness?

I found my teenage daughter lost in deep thought one day. When I tried to intrude (a temptation most parents can’t resist), she solemnly said “Mum, I am wondering what is the point of it all?” The anxious, perplexed mother in me wanted to quickly escape the moment by laughing it off. But better sense prevailed, and I tried to engage in a conversation with her.  


What we explored in it are beautifully complex themes that I have often discovered and discussed with many of my teenage clients- threads of mixed emotions, multiple tracks of thoughts, petrifying variety of choices. 

Common themes observed underpinning disturbed feelings in teens are- 

  • What if I am disapproved of by my friends?
  • Am I good enough as I am?
  • How well am I doing as compared to others?
  • Am I too ordinary to stand out?
  • What’s my future going to be like?


These thoughts can negatively impact how they feel as well as how they act based on these feelings. The confusion in thoughts can manifest itself in the form of conflicts about making different choices-

  • Whether to be yourself or to conform to the norms
  • Whether to take risks or to make safe choices
  • Whether to strive to be independent or to look for security in your comfort zone
  • Whether to comply with your parent’s expectations of you or to set your own goals


Now, let’s look at how these conflicts can further trigger some unhealthy emotions and behaviours. For eg – different people respond to these conflicts with emotions like anxiety, hopelessness, shame, guilt, anger, etc., and then respond to it in various ways –

  • Some may want to resign to their fate and let others make these choices for them
  • Some may want to gain more control by trying to make perfect choices
  • Some may want to escape the conflict by hurting themselves, overly consuming online content, binge eating junk, etc., and 
  • Some others may want to rebel and make extreme choices.


Most of these ways prove to be short-term conflict resolutions and in fact harmful in the long term.


An important question that we need to try and answer as a society is “what are the most effective ways to equip these young people with skills and tools that help them resolve conflicts, face and overcome challenges when they can, and keep making helpful choices at critical points in their life?”


In my opinion, therapeutic and developmental interventions need to become a default part of the ecosystem of a teenager’s life. Can schools and colleges encourage every student to interact with a counsellor? Can parents encourage their kids to focus on mental fitness as much as physical fitness? For eg- going to a mental fitness workshop twice or thrice a week just like you would go to the gym or a yoga class, doing daily homework and practice to enhance mental health just like you would do daily school homework, actively teaching them mental hygiene just like you would teach physical hygiene.

In the end

If working towards a healthier mind becomes a seamless part of a teenager’s life, we could build a strong foundation that works towards preventing psychological disturbances as these teens move forward in their lives. Asking for help with emotional-behavioural problems can cease to be a stigmatized, shameful thing. But this needs to be preceded by a radical shift in our attitudes towards mental health as adults, caregivers, and guardians of society. Are we willing to come out of our comfort zones first? Are we willing to be vulnerable first, before we can encourage our children to do so?

About Author – 

Swati Khanolkar – 

Director of In Vivo and  AEI Certified REBT Supervisor & Faculty

Swati Khanolkar, a trained clinical psychologist, is an accomplished REBT practitioner. She is an Associate Fellow and Supervisor of the Albert Ellis Institute, New York. She has taught psychology at both Graduate and Post graduate levels at SNDT University, Mumbai and affiliated colleges. She has conducted training programs for various corporates and has also been invited as a guest lecturer for several organizations and colleges in Mumbai. She is the Director of ‘In Vivo- The Mumbai Centre for REBT’ under which she conducts regular REBT training programs for students and professionals in psychology. She also conducts self-help group therapy and individual counselling, an initiative that has helped her clients make a remarkable positive difference in their lives.