Healthy Kids     Teen Health    

Our girls are not okay—but they are reachable

Six steps worried parents can take

Teen girls' mental health crisis

A shocking new report by the CDC confirms what many parents already suspected: Teenage girls are in crisis. A 2021 survey of more than 17,000 high school students found that 30 percent of the girls had considered suicide—a rate that’s double that of boys and almost 60 percent higher than ten years ago. Besides the unprecedented rise in suicidal behavior, the report shared other grim findings on sexual violence, substance misuse, depression, and other mental health woes.

Most parents receive news like this with a sinking feeling and a sense of dread. It’s not that we’re surprised; after the COVID years and the flood of stories on drug addiction, broken mental health, and the relentlessness of social media, how could we be? It’s that we feel so helpless to do anything about it.

The good news is that, actually, we aren’t helpless, says national recovery advocate David Magee. Despite the message you may be getting from all-grim news reports—not to mention your teen’s closed door, perpetual silence, and sullen stares—our girls are reachable.

READ MORE: Eating disorders during the college years

“I’ve engaged with some 20,000 middle and high school students throughout the country in the past year,” says Magee, host of The Mayo Lab Podcast and author of the upcoming book Things Have Changed: What Every Parent (and Educator) Should Know About the Student Mental Health and Substance Misuse Crisis (Matt Holt, August 2023, ISBN: 978-1-6377439-6-6, $22.00). “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been talking about my own depression or my daughter’s eating disorder and looked out into the audience to see girls just wiping away flowing tears.

“Also, they are the ones lining up to talk to me the most,” he adds. “It just breaks my heart, but it also warms my heart because they are reachable. A critical key is to be there with them and for them—really see them and hear them.

None of this is to suggest boys are not struggling, too. They certainly are—indeed, Magee’s own son tragically died of an accidental drug overdose in 2013—and they need just as much parental attention, empathy, and understanding as girls do. The question is, regardless of gender, how do you reach your teens? Magee offers a few tips:


First, get the lay of the land. (Educate yourself.) Magee’s book title says it all: Things really have changed. Young people face a cauldron of pressures their parents can’t relate to. That’s why he joined with the University of Mississippi’s Thomas Hayes Mayo Lab to create The Mayo Lab Podcast. This weekly program—available on all podcast platforms starting February 28—will bring together the best thought leaders in various arenas (mental health, drug misuse prevention, and parenting) so parents can access them in one place.


“The idea is to offer research-based insights and guidance to equip not just parents but also educators and students to start a different conversation in their own lives,” says Magee. “If we don’t know the realities our children face, we can’t talk about them in a meaningful way.”

READ MORE: The most common issues teens are facing today


Hold regular conversations to normalize how teens are feeling. Make it a priority to engage with your teens over meals and activities. Broach conversations on subjects you might suspect they are dealing with—bullying, eating disorders, substance misuse—and don’t be afraid to state the blunt facts. However, remember the goal here is to engage your teens on what they may be feeling, not to lecture, “catch,” or shame them.

“Your teens may seem to prefer sitting in silence, but don’t let them,” says Magee. “Too often parents just follow their children’s lead because it feels too uncomfortable to force the conversation or—as is very often the case—because we don’t know what to say.”

Ask open-ended questions. (This is critical.) Too many parents preach or hold one-sided conversations with our children. Resist this urge. Instead, ask questions focused on how they feel, rather than thrusting your angst and fear upon them. For example: “How did you feel when your friends were out together Friday night while you were at home with family?” or, “How did it feel when the names were posted for making the team and yours was omitted?”


“Studies show young people need to be seen and heard to become whole,” says Magee. “Open-ended questions open your child’s mind and yours. Their responses hold the capacity to inform and surprise and even deeply delight.”

READ MORE: Mental health tips for COVID-era teens 


Listen closely and you may hear clues. (The word “anxiety” is one.) Magee calls anxiety the “safe word” for today’s generation. While they may not admit to substance misuse or depression, they will often claim anxiety. This is your cue to continue asking open-ended questions, like, “When are you most likely to feel anxiety? How would you describe what your anxiety feels like? What do you think would make you feel better?” 


Resist the urge to tell them how they should feel. As parents, our instinct may be to say things like, “You have so many friends!” or, “You’ve got that big game coming up—there’s so much to be happy about!” While we may do this with pure intentions, it is not helpful, says Magee. If we really want to know our child, we must do less telling and more listening. Often, telling our children how they feel is a reflection of our own desires to shape them into who or what we think they should be, rather than helping them explore what brings them joy.


Share relatable stories when appropriate. “I am a huge believer in using storytelling to help people grasp a message in a real and heartfelt way,” says Magee, who has made peer-to-peer storytelling a focal point in bringing his message to students. “When parents tell teens about their own struggles with substance misuse, for example, it can be incredibly powerful. They probably recognize it anyway. Likewise, you might tell stories of others who have had success in treatment or recovery, like friends or family members who don’t mind being used as an example. 


Obviously, none of this is easy. In fact, it’s the sheer complexity of the mental health and substance misuse epidemic and all its moving parts that led to the creation of the William Magee Institute for Student Wellbeing at the University of Mississippi. (“It takes a whole institute to even begin getting our hands around these issues,” notes Magee.)

But one thing is undeniable: Holding conversations like the ones described above should be a top priority for parents, says Magee.

“Engaging with your teens this way is just as important as putting food on the table,” he says. “You wouldn’t think of not nourishing your child’s physical health with regular meals. The same goes for nourishing their mental health. These conversations, along with ensuring that teens get plenty of sleep and exercise and limit their time on social media, go a long way toward changing their reality.”

David Magee is the best-selling author of "Things Have Changed: What Every Parent (and Educator) Should Know About the Student Mental Health and Substance Misuse Crisis and Dear William: A Father’s Memoir of Addiction, Recovery, Love, and Loss"—a Publisher’s Weekly bestseller, named a Best Book of the South, and featured on CBS Mornings—and other nonfiction books. A changemaker in student and family mental health and substance misuse, he’s the creator and director of operations of the William Magee Institute for Student Wellbeing at the University of Mississippi and a frequent K–12 and university educational and motivational speaker, helping students and parents find and keep their joy. He’s also a national recovery advisor for the Integrative Life Network. Learn more at

Other articles by HVP News Reporters

  • Get Hooked on Fishing, Not Drugs

    Third Annual Orange County District Attorney’s Office Youth Fishing Derby

    The Third District Attorney’s Office Youth Fishing Derby will run from April 1 through Sept. 4, 2023. The event is open to young people between the ages of 4 and 18 who are children or grandchildren of Orange County residents. read more »
  • Kids aren't eating fruits and veggies

    Happiest Baby's Dr. Harvey Karp has tips to change that

    A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that approximately 32% of 1- to 5-year-olds did not eat a single piece of fruit a day and nearly one half (~49%) didn't eat any vegetables a day. Roughly 51% drank a sugar-sweetened beverage, like fruit drinks or soda, at least once a week. read more »
  • 5 sleep habits essential for heart health

    Make sure you get your zzz's with these tips

    In the days following a time change due to daylight saving time, research shows a marked increase in heart attacks and strokes. However, losing sleep anytime can be a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. read more »
  • Take these 6 steps to manage your blood pressure

    Hypertension can be dangerous

    High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects nearly half of adults in the United States, and only about 1 in 4 with this condition have it under control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). read more »
  • Make your St. Patrick's Day spread green with envy

    These open-faced noshes can be perfect for lunch, snack time or an appetizer

    Freshen up your St. Patrick’s Day menu with easy, light sandwiches inspired by the traditional color of the festivities. These open-faced noshes can be perfect for lunch, snack time or even as an appetizer for get-togethers with friends and family. read more »
  • Lucky mint brownie perfection

    A twisted combination of mint and sweet chocolate

    How lucky you must be to come across this recipe just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. This one is a twisted combination of mint and sweet chocolate that’s sure to have almost anyone’s taste buds screaming “yum.” This dessert might just be the pot of gold at the end of your rainbow this year. read more »
  • 3 ways parents can encourage social emotional learning in children

    Parents focus on social emotional skills, mental health, kindness and understanding differences

    Most parents would agree the quality of their children’s education plays a key role in their overall development. While parents are optimistic about the future of education, they also recognize children have educational needs beyond what is considered the standard. read more »
  • Selecting a health care provider

    Resources to guide your selection

    Getting health care for yourself or a loved one is a big responsibility, especially if you’re just getting started with Medicare or have changes in your life, such as a new diagnosis of a condition or disease. It can be overwhelming if you need services like nursing home care, have to find a new doctor or get home health care. read more »
  • 5 simple solutions for proper nasal hygiene

    Keep your nasal passages clean, clear and moisturized

    Your nose is essential for conditioning the air you breathe and serves as the first line of defense against dust, pollution, bacteria, viruses and more. The presence of these substances in your nasal passages can trigger infections, disease and illness. read more »
  • Have a bump on your foot?

    Don’t ignore it

    Have a lump or bump on your foot? Whether it’s painful or not, it could potentially signal a serious condition. Foot and ankle surgeons warn it’s important to have it checked out, no matter its size or location on your foot. read more »