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Parental Love vs. Teen Mental Health: What ‘I Love You’ Can’t Fix

There are times when saying “I love you” isn’t enough, especially today when it is so easily said. In the beginning of the 21st century, management and leadership books suggested saying “I Love You” to subordinates and team members. Though many leaders backed off when a federal jury in New York delivered a $5 million dollar verdict against an employer who practiced it in the workplace, the practice remains alive.

Teachers, neighbors, associates, and friends continue sharing what, thanks to social media, has become clichéd. We all know people who end every conversation with “I Love You”, who paste hearts at the end of each email and text or find it necessary to include “I Love You” in each farewell greeting. The counselors and therapists of Improving Lives Counseling Services identify and isolate disturbing thoughts and emotions engulfed within or obscured behind a simple “I Love You” or “I Love You Too.”


Most parents have an “undying” love for their children throughout their lives. Beyond providing the basics of food, shelter, and clothing, they provide security, medical care, acceptance, and support. Many will say “I Love You” three or four times throughout the day – at each passing, and at the end of each text or call. Yet suicide among teens – many of which heard “I Love You”, remains the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, teens, and young adults ages 15-24.

School, homelife, extracurricular activities, friendships, relationships, and puberty (a changing body) are all happening at the same time. This emotionally turbulent period puts teens between the ages of 13 and 19 at a higher risk for self-loathing, chronic stress, extreme anxiety, and depression. Addiction, alcoholism, body dysmorphic (real or imagined), criminality, promiscuity, self-mutilation, and non-suicidal self-injury are ways certain teens cope with their emotional pain.

Parental love is characterized by “warmth, affection, care, comfort, concern, nurture, support, acceptance, or love that a child can feel from their parents.” Though dysfunction is usually found in an abusive, fearful, or “loveless” family, parents who fail to meet the emotional and mental health needs of a child are breeding a form of dysfunction. In a November 2022 survey, the National Library of Medicine found only 38% of children who met criteria for a mental health diagnosis were perceived by their parents as having a need.


Much loved teens, like unloved teens, list lack of communication skills, disappointing parents, not knowing how parents will react, not wanting to worry parents, and unmet expectations as reasons for not sharing emotional needs. In addition, they fear parents will blame themselves, or that they (the teen) will be blamed for not “buckling down” or “giving it their best.” Many teens feel prior traumas, mentally ill family members, family difficulties, and overheard conversations should never be discussed. Older teens might feel they’re adults and conversations around mental illness would be awkward – especially if race, culture, or religion considers it a forbidden subject.

Teens feel the need to break free, to find themselves, discover their beliefs, identify their likes, and make known their dislikes. Because they are more exposed and have more access to “everything” today, their choices are unlimited. Due to a lack of tightly knitted communities, parents are often unaware of what their teens friends’ parents permit in their home. Even in small towns and rural communities, a teen’s best friend’s parents may forego parental controls on video games, tv, movies, music, books, magazines, and the internet.


No matter how much a teen is trusted, there will be an occasion within those teen years, when they will be swayed by peer pressure. Wikipedia defines it as, “a direct or indirect influence on peers when individuals are encouraged to change attitudes, values or behaviors to conform to those of the influencing group.” In other words, a feeling that one must do the same things as other people of one’s age to be liked or respected. Peer pressure can lead to drinking, drag racing, shoplifting, smoking, trying drugs, visiting websites, experiencing sex, and at the college level hazing. Today, peer pressure in movies and in media is glorified. Even movies parents watch with their teens to ensure they understand it is “just a movie” can influence the behavior of a teen. A parent saying, “I Love You” and meeting basic and physical needs is not enough to protect a teen from peer pressure.


From early childhood through adolescent and the teen years, much like dental, vision, and physical check-ups, mental health check-ups are a necessity. Providing basic needs and saying “I Love You” three or four times a day isn’t enough. Parents cannot be with their teen 24/7, and there is no way to know everything a teen is experiencing. Even the teen who won’t stop talking, or the one who appears to share “way too much” can be submerged in emotional turmoil. The most family-oriented teen, the homeschooled teen, the perfect A student, athletic, and musical prodigy, all require a mental health check-up.

The diverse team of licensed, professional counselors, therapists, and clinicians of Improving Lives Counseling Services provide mental health check-ups for children, adolescents, and teens, and diagnose and treat mental illnesses and diseases. Your teens’ mental wellbeing matters. We offer in-person and virtual and online individual, couples, family, and group sessions. Call 918-960-7852 to learn more.