The pandemic's impact on teens' mental health
While this is a challenging time for everyone, it is especially difficult for adolescents. Anxiety and depression were on the rise in this age group even before the pandemic, and now we are seeing the impact of coronavirus manifest itself in increased levels of stress, frustration, hopelessness, and sadness in our teenage clients. Adolescence is a critical time for the development of independence, both in an emotional and social sense. With social distancing measures, safety mitigations and at home learning, teenagers are finding it challenging to develop a strong sense of self amongst the unpredictability of the pandemic. In addition to increased anxiety and depression, adolescents’ are grieving their loss of normalcy; sports, parties, club activities, school and even 1:1 friendships have been disrupted or halted completely. Supporting your teen can be tricky during this time when you, as adults are managing your own fears and losses, but here are some helpful guidelines for you to consider:
1. Help your teen create a routine or schedule at home. Balance the school day with time to get outdoors, exercise, and meditation/relaxation activities. A routine will help your teen feel more grounded and will reduce stress.
2. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is a top priority. Inconsistent sleep patterns can lead to emotional outbursts, lower levels of cognitive functioning and overall poor mental health. Encourage your teen to do schoolwork at a desk or table, not in their bed. If they do their school day in their beds, their brains will associate their bed with being awake.
3. Find creative ways to allow your adolescent to socialize. Creating and maintaining friendships are crucial for an adolescent’s development. This can be done through online gaming, chat rooms, FaceTime, creating an outdoor space where social distancing can be done, or keeping a safe social circle, with mask wearing and other safety mitigations. Social isolation will only increase a teen’s depression and anxiety, so allow for safe socialization whenever possible.
4. Pre-pandemic we supported limiting screen time for all ages, but due to the lack of socialization opportunities, we need to take a deep breath and allow for screen time for our teens. More important than the amount of screen time is actually the type of screen time. Have a conversation with your teen about the importance of engaging in social media in a healthy and positive way. Adolescents use their mobile devices as a way to connect with friends and this is now more important than ever. We do not recommend taking away phones or computers as a punishment at this time.
5. As always, create a safe space for your teen to express their worries, fears, losses and frustrations. Focus on listening, validating and empathizing instead of advice giving and rescuing. Normalization of what they are feeling is key. If you are concerned about your teen’s mental health, reach out to your pediatrician or a therapist in your community. Schools are also a great place to find resources if you are unsure who to reach out to. Remember, you are a role model for your teenager. Normalize asking for help. - Tracy Strepek, LCSW, Ext. 351