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When most of us think about the coronavirus pandemic we are considering its effects from an adult frame of mind. We worry about the practical issues like having enough food in the pantry or toilet paper in the house to get us through the crisis. But the coronavirus is impacting teens in a significant way, too. With so much pressure parents are under they may not stop to think about what their teenagers need during the pandemic.
Many teens already struggle with depression or anxiety. With everything now turned upside down in our world, the reality of how much the pandemic will be changing their lives, at least for the time being, will really start to sink in. Things that teens always expected to happen—prom, baseball games, graduation ceremonies, and the usual social gatherings—are no longer going to take place. This can cause much distress for teens who are vulnerable anyway to mental health challenges.
Let’s face it, this event is unprecedented and could very well have a significant impact on teen mental health. According to Jutta Joorman, a psychology professor at Yale University, “It will take some time for us to see the long-term mental health effects of this situation, but it has a lot of the ingredients that can affect people’s mental health negatively in a significant way.”
By the time a child reaches the teen years they will have become much more independent. They are accustomed to coming and going with a good deal of freedom. To suddenly be told to stay at home can cause frustration, resentment, boredom, and loneliness. For a teen, the world revolves around their social life, which is now reduced to online technology only. Being abruptly cut off from friends and social activities, teens may become depressed and begin to feel isolated.
Part of anticipating what teenagers need during a pandemic like this will depend a lot on each parent’s unique child. Each teen has their own emotional needs, and parents are usually tuned in to those. Understand that for a teen, straddling the line between childhood and adulthood, the fear associated with the virus may prove difficult to manage. Parents can help assuage these distressing feelings by their own positive messaging, as teens will pick up on the parent’s vibes.
How Teens Might Struggle Emotionally During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Most teens are wired to be a bit egocentric, meaning the world revolves around them and what makes them happy. During a pandemic, there is a need to adopt a more selfless mindset when it comes to social distancing, but young people tend to have a difficult time accepting this. The teen brain is still not fully developed in the region that regulates impulsiveness and decision making, therefore teens tend to not worry about consequences. Parents are tasked with the duty to communicate to their adolescents how important it is to obey the social distancing policies for the good of others.
As many parents will be facing financial uncertainty, the stress they may be experiencing can affect their teens as well. Teens are often much more tuned in to things than parents suspect and may be feeling anxious about the impact of a parent’s job loss. When considering what teenagers need during a pandemic like the one we are now facing, one thing they do not need is more stress. This is already a very unsettling life event, so parents are wise to make every effort to minimize their own anxiety when around their kids.
Because teens are all about their social lives, to them this feels like the rug has been pulled out from under them. The carefree days of youth are suddenly ground to a screeching halt, a shock that few had seen coming. Being told that they are no longer permitted to hang out with their friends will be hard to accept, so it is helpful to commiserate with your teen. Let them know you feel badly for them, that they have to accept a totally different way of life, at least for the foreseeable future.
5 Things Teenagers Need during a Pandemic
When wondering what teenagers need during a pandemic like what we are currently experiencing, consider the following:
- Some structure. While the first few weeks of the shutdown may have felt like a mini-vacation filled with Netflix and junk food, as the days add up the shine is dimming. Teens might be prone to lounging in bed all day or holed up in their room playing video games, which is not conducive to wellness. While there is no need for rigidity at a time like this, providing some structure to the days is a good thing. Have the teens keep to a basic schedule that keeps them accountable to their academic work and chores, and there will still be plenty of time to binge on Netflix.
- Continue socializing. Although socializing needs to be adjusted significantly during the crisis, it is still important to a teen’s mental health that they are connected to their friends. Encourage them to use Zoom or FaceTime to meet up in groups for video chats and socializing. Suggest they call each other to chat, a long-lost pre-texting artifact that can engender more meaningful conversations with close friends. If there are siblings in the house, suggest they dig out the old board games and decks of cards for some family social time.
- New pursuits. Even though teens will be surly about having to sideline their usual activities there can be a silver lining to all this. Parents can guide their teens towards exploring some new interests or encourage them to pick up a past hobby. Maybe the teen once played the piano and had abandoned the instrument. Why not download some new music and get reacquainted with playing the piano. Possibly a teen has always dreamed of visiting Spain someday, so suggest they download a language app like Duolingo and learn to speak Spanish while they are stuck at home.
- Selflessness modeled. One of the most important gifts parents can give their teenagers is to model what kindness and compassion look like. Practice what you preach, parents, and demonstrate to your teens what social distancing should look like. Explain to them how not following these important guidelines can lead to the illness, or even deaths, of others. Teens absorb their parents’ actions much more that they do a parents words or admonitions. Model the virtues you want your kids to display.
- Calm parents. We are truly in uncharted waters, and no one really knows what to expect in the near future, much less the longer view. This means that there may be life-altering events that unfold over the ensuing months that can be a source of stress for parents. Because teens are highly sensitive anyway, and very attuned to their parent’s moods, it is best to try to manage emotions and limit displays of anxiety in front of the kids. Try to have intense conversations in a private space where the teens will not be privy to hearing about distressing events or the stress caused by them.
Mostly … Teens Need to Feel Safe During the Coronavirus Event
As the weeks progress, there will be increasing negative news reports of the fallout associated with the coronavirus pandemic. Teens will overhear parents discussing the rising case counts and social media will provide an unending feed of sad statistics from around the world. This can be very difficult for a teenager to digest and process, leaving them vulnerable to emotional distress.
During this pandemic, parents are tasked with a big job—trying to keep things calm and on even keel inside the home. But these efforts are valuable to the emotional stability of all family members, as no one benefits from fear and dread.
However, if, regardless of a parent’s attempts to protect their teen from the effects of the pandemic, the teenager exhibits signs of impairment due to anxiety or depression, it is time to consult a mental health professional who can provide some guidance. Most mental health providers are offering tele-mental health services during the pandemic. This allows parents to arrange for evaluation and psychotherapy provided via a video platform. It is always best to be proactive when one’s teen is displaying signs of psychological distress, and the coronavirus event is certainly no exception. Do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health provider if your teen is struggling emotionally during this difficult time.
BNI Treatment Centers Residential Mental Health Center for Teens
BNI Treatment Centers is a top provider of residential care for teens in Los Angeles, CA. Residential mental health treatment is an excellent option for teens ages 12-17 who have not responded to outpatient interventions and whose mental health is deteriorating. At BNI Treatment, our expert psychiatric staff is dedicated to providing customized treatment to each teen based on their unique needs. The program is designed with teens in mind, with several complementary therapies that interest the age group and keep them engaged. For more information about how BNI Treatment Centers can assist your teen during the coronavirus pandemic, please reach out today at (888) 387-0105.