10 mood-boosting ideas for teenagers
It’s not unusual for teenagers to withdraw from family life, retreat into their bedrooms and experience periods of low mood. Being a teen is tough (see The reality of being a teenage girl today). There are important exams to navigate, peer pressures and body anxieties – it’s hardly surprising if it all feels a bit much sometimes. But there are ways that parents can help. These mood-boosting ideas for teenagers are a great place to start.
If your teenager’s low mood is severe or goes on for a long time, this could be a symptom of depression. Do seek help (have a look at the Young Minds website or at this mental health resource list or speak to your family doctor). The mood-boosting ideas below will still make a difference but your teen may need professional support too.
As the parent of teenagers, I am certainly not presenting these ideas as a cure-all: the hardest bit will be getting your teenager to even try them out (see How to get a teen out of their bedroom). All of the mood-boosting ideas below come with a huge caveat – if your teenager is not in the right frame of mind, they probably won’t work. But that doesn’t mean you should stop trying. Sometimes something will work on one day and not the next. And, if nothing else, you will be modelling a positive attitude to your teen which might help them find their own ideas to lift their mood.
Laughter is a great mood-booster. It might be a joke, a tickle or a funny programme on TV – whatever raises a smile for your teen. Laughter is also brilliant for creating connection and helping teens to feel accepted, which will make the rest of these ideas much more achievable.
Lots of teens (especially girls) withdraw from sports during the teenage years. If you haven’t got a sporty teen, try to look for opportunities for small bits of exercise. They all add up and contribute to higher levels of happiness. Walking to the shop for last minute dinner supplies, an online yoga class, a keepy uppy competition in the garden, or standing on one leg for a minute (try closing your eyes too!) – anything that gets your teen moving is worth encouraging.
Build on their strengths
When we engage our natural strengths, we tend to feel happier and enjoy life more. If your teen is not sure what their strengths are, they could take the online VIA (Values in Action) survey. The VIA Survey identifies 24 different character strengths and ranks them according to which come most naturally to your teenager. It’s much easier to engage in activities that use your natural strengths when you are feeling low, so this might help you work out which of these mood-boosting ideas for teenagers will work best. Even just being aware of one’s own strengths has been shown to increase happiness.
Get out into nature
And preferably into daylight. If your teen isn’t sleeping well or is spending a lot of time in their bedroom, getting out into daylight will help reset their circadian rhythm. Even a few minutes in a nature helps to boost mood, so encourage your teen to get out into some greenery if you can.
Make them feel loved
Teenagers’ brains are hyper-alert to social threat. When you think you are giving them advice, what they hear is criticism. If your teen is experiencing low mood, it’s tempting to get in there with a lot of prompts (i.e. nagging) and advice. It’s easy to fall into the trap of telling them (again and again) what they’re not doing and what they should be doing instead. Which then impacts negatively on their mood even more.
Forget about the rights and wrongs, how about you just pop into their room with something nice and show them you care? A hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows pretty much guarantees entry into my teen’s room. Even if yours won’t drink it, they will appreciate a no-nag “I love you”.
This might be as simple as writing down three good things that have happened that day and spending a few moments thinking about these brightest moments. You can buy positive psychology journals that will encourage your teen towards gratitude and also help them set positive intentions for the next day. But a simple notebook – or just a five minute conversation with you modelling the process and identifying your three best moments – is a great place to start.
Make them feel valued
Knowing that you are making a difference can really lift a low mood. Don’t forget to acknowledge the efforts your teenager is making. You might want them to be doing a lot more but by thanking them for the small things they do (rather than always criticising them for the things they don’t do), you’ll be helping them to feel good about themselves. A little bit of praise can make a huge difference to how teens feel.
Do things for others
Doing things for others has been proven to boost happiness. Your teen might be utterly sulky about doing the washing up for you (or even just bringing the dirty dishes out of their room) but can you catch their imagination with a good cause that gets them fired up? A community project? Saving the planet? Helping out their grandmother?
The gut has an enormous impact on mood and wellbeing. Lots of teens develop poor eating habits, with diets full of chocolate, crisps and fast food. Do whatever you can to squeeze some healthy proteins, probiotics and fruit/vegetables into them. You might need to be creative, especially if they are reluctant to try anything healthy. Remember when you used to sneak vegetables into their meals as toddlers? If it works, it’s worth a try. Think smoothies with Greek yoghurt, probiotics and their favourite fruit (with a blob of honey or ice cream if required to make them more acceptable) or blended soups or pasta sauces with hidden veg. Be prepared to compromise. Ideals are all very well for perfect situations but getting nutrients into a teen with a poor diet usually involves compromises to kickstart a change. If you can get them cooking with you, that’s another huge win.
There some moments (especially those grim January post-Christmas moments when winter feels very long) when a bit of hygge is the best medicine. Cosy slippers, a hot drink, snuggled up under blankets for your favourite TV programme – lovely!
If you are looking for ideas for the whole family, take a look at these tips: Creating a mentally healthy family life.