A recent survey shows that almost half of US teenagers demonstrated new or worsened mental health problems during the pandemic. Another report shows that mental health insurance claims for teenagers in the country rose to about double the numbers before the pandemic.
Experts point out that teenagers feel extreme stress from feelings of isolation and loneliness as school closures and distance learning cut them off from physical interaction with their friends. They no longer have access to sports and extracurricular activities and cannot hang out. Social interaction with peers is a vital part of teenagers’ lives, and losing this can make them feel disconnected, frustrated, and depressed.
Teenagers are also old enough to understand and worry about the dangers of Covid-19 infection and the economic instability it brings. These fears and uncertainties can trigger anxiety.
For teens who experienced death in the family from the coronavirus, the weight of grief and bereavement may be too much to bear.
As a parent, you must closely observe your teenager for any signs that they may be having difficulty coping and are in danger of having mental health issues. Look out for unusual changes in mood or behavior, such as suddenly being irritable or angry or lashing out in rage.
It can also be the opposite, with the teenager suddenly withdrawing from family and friends, losing interest in things or activities they previously enjoyed or expressing feelings of hopelessness. They can have problems concentrating and can lose interest in schoolwork.
The teen can experience changes in sleeping and eating patterns, either having too much or too little. There can also be changes in appearance and a lack of interest in maintaining basic hygiene. Some can express thoughts about suicide.
Any of these signs, especially the last one, would be reason enough to seek professional help immediately.
What Parents Can Do
You need not wait until you see any warning signs before you act to ease your teenager’s stress.
Discuss the pandemic with your teen and put things in perspective so that they will not panic and yet recognize the need to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines. Make sure your teenager always wears a mask outside the house. Purchasing trendy masks of their choice would be a good motivation.
Help your teenager transition to social interactions and activities as soon as the authorities allow these in your area. Make them understand the importance of continued social distancing and avoiding physical contact.
Make your teenager choose the activities they want to engage in, from among those that are allowable. For instance, depending on your teen’s age, this can be the perfect time to take an online course for basic driver improvement and then apply for a learner’s permit. Afterward, they can practice driving around with you while there are streets that are empty.
Help your teen avoid boredom while having an outlet to express pent-up emotions. Make them choose from among creative pursuits such as drawing, painting, writing, or music.
Exercise, fresh air, and sunshine all lower stress levels, and you can run or walk outside with your teen every day. Make sure that you do so in an area that is not crowded and that you veer six feet or more away from any other person you come across.
Discuss self-regulation with your teen and help them establish good sleeping patterns by scheduling a fixed bedtime and wake-up time. You must also help them get on a healthy eating pattern, eating the right number of nutritious meals and snacks on time. With your support, there will be no temptations in the house, and your teen will not feel deprived either.
It also helps to open yourself up to your teenager and let him or her know that you are likewise vulnerable to the same feelings of anxiety and deep sadness. This makes it clear that those feelings are natural during the pandemic, but they can also be manageable. Let your teen know that you will both do better if you work together.
Making your teen recognize that they can always talk to you honestly about anything will be reassuring. You must also consider the personality of the individual, though, because while some teens will appreciate the safe space you provide, it may take them a while to openly express themselves.
The important thing is that you are always there for them, helping them cope as you are also coping with the Covid-19 pandemic.