Positive teen mental health takes concerted effort, particularly in our modern, tech-filled, on-the-go culture. Evening routine is a particularly important part of a mentally healthy lifestyle. It helps the nervous system stay calm and allows time for winding down ready for a healthy night’s sleep.
Here are my best tips from my personal experience (I have a fifteen and twelve year-old) and from my sixteen years as a clinical psychologist working with teens.
Do you have a great tip which I could add to the list? Please email me! Drlucyrussell@theyarethefuture.co.uk
Use a Visual Planner to Create a Routine
Visual planners reduce overload. When your teenager is clear what to do next, they don’t have to think about it. When they are tired, they will procrastinate less.
Keep the planner simple. Use colour and pictures. Don’t be too rigid about timings. Here’s an example.
Choose a Time to Stop Studying, and Stick to It
It’s vital that the body gets a chance to move into “rest and digest” mode from action/doing mode. For positive teen mental health teach your child to have clear boundaries in the evenings. Ask them to make a commitment. For example:
After 7.30pm I will close my books, switch my computer off, and start to wind down.
Gentle Exercise Only
Gentle exercise such as stretching or yoga will reduce tension in the body. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, or “rest and digest”. This is conducive to winding down successfully ready for bed. (Read more about the parasympathetic nervous system and “rest and digest” in this article.)
It is important your child doesn’t do intense exercise in the late evenings. Endorphins produced by intense aerobic exercise can disrupt sleep. Aerobic exercise also raises the body’s core temperature, which signals to the body that it is time to wake up (not sleep).
Set up a “Pre-Bedtime Runway”
A pre-bedtime runway is an essential tool for positive teen mental health. It primes the body to relax, by giving the body deliberate and unmistakeable signals to chill out.
At least an hour before your bed, your child should practise calming each of the senses in turn. Turn down the volume on the TV or music, talk in a softer voice, dim the lights, consider using relaxing smells (eg candles, oils) or tastes (eg hot chocolate). Avoid caffeine at night time at all costs. Ensure your child stops using electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime.
Use a Worry Box or Journal if Anxious/Sensitive
Often, worries come to life in evenings and decide to have a party. They swirl around in your child’s mind, gathering momentum. Journaling or using a worry box are powerful strategies. They teach your child:
- To put the worry into words. This prevents it from being a vague cloud of worry. “Name it to tame it”.
- Getting the worry onto paper diminishes its power and allows your teenager to go to sleep with a clearer head. Strategies such as these for managing worries are critical to positive teen mental health.
There are many journals on the market, such as the one below. A simple note work would work well too.
Read more about worry boxes in this article.
Think Like a Caveperson
Our brains have not evolved to cope with modern life. The circadian rhythm and nervous system may be easily upset by small things like loud music or shouting, leading to over-stimulation.
Our distant ancestors lived according to the gentle ebb and flow of nature, without electric light or power. They would have had only the gentle light from a fire to see by. I can picture them sitting round a campfire, talking, perhaps singing or softly drumming. The reduction in light entering the caveperson’s pineal gland would have triggered the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone. A short while later they would drift into a natural, deep sleep.
Don’t allow your teenager to do exciting or overstimulating activities in the evening. It confuses brain and body, so the release of melatonin may get interrupted. Advise gentle exercise only (such as yoga, stretching or walking) for the same reason. Avoid bright light.
Prep for tomorrow
Your child will sleep more easily knowing that they have prepped for tomorrow. If they struggle with organisation, help them get started to pack their bag. Get uniform/clothes out, and even help them make tomorrow’s packed lunch if applicable.
If you are keen to support your child to flourish in their mental health, have a look at my online parenting courses!