Let's face it, raising kids can be a challenge in the best of times. Throw in a global pandemic which brings with it economic impacts, anxiety over the spread of illness, and the isolation that has accompanied the lockdown restrictions and closures, and you have challenges for which the impact on youth and their caregivers is far reaching and not yet fully understood.
Teenagers feel frustrated, disconnected, and bored because of social distancing. They may feel nostalgic for the past, and disappointed by missed opportunities to celebrate important life events or milestones. Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March, 2020, young people have largely been protected from the physical impacts of the virus, however, research on the impacts of the pandemic on youth mental health paint a different picture.
Studies show that since the onset of COVID-19, teens and adolescents have experienced increased anxiety, loneliness and depression, and have felt less motivated to participate in activities that they normally enjoy. Their academic performance and social wellbeing are being impacted. While social media can be helpful in facilitating social connection, mounting evidence suggests that increased exposure to social media during the pandemic has led to negative impacts on mental health among young people, and has specifically been linked to growing numbers of youth struggling with poor body image and eating disorders.
Additional research indicates that isolation due to lockdown measures has led to an increase in depression, thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation among youth. Unfortunately, despite feeling the need for support with mental health, many young people do not reach out.
So, what can parents do to help?
Navigating the mental health of your teen can be especially stressful right now, particularly if you are experiencing your own struggle with mental health. Resources and support may appear more difficult to access due to restrictions and waitlists. You may be feeling frustrated. Parenting strategies that may have worked pre-Covid-19 might seem irrelevant under current circumstances. If you are concerned about your teenager, this article is intended to provide insight to what might be going on with your teen’s mental health, while offering suggestions to help open the doors of communication between you and your teen and to help reduce feelings of loneliness, frustration and powerlessness.
Renowned family therapist Virginia Satir famously said that people need a minimum of four hugs per day for survival, even more in order to thrive.
Parenting during the pandemic has undoubtedly proven to be challenging in ways that we couldn’t have predicted. Feeling anxious or frustrated about the pandemic and the impact that it continues to have on our lives, is normal. Remember to be compassionate with yourself during this time- this is hard! Try to keep an open dialogue about mental health with your teen and demonstrate to them now that it’s okay ask for help if they are struggling.
After all, if we are not comfortable talking about mental health, how can we expect our kids to be?
I hope that the suggestions in this article will benefit not only your teens, but you as well, and will provide a bit of reassurance as we forge ahead in these uncertain times. For more tips, ideas, and activities for supporting teens with their mental health, check out these online resources:
Teens report loneliness and depression:
Ellis, W. E., Dumas, T. M., & Forbes, L. M. (2020). Physically isolated but socially connected: Psychological adjustment and stress among adolescents during the initial COVID-19 crisis. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue Canadienne Des Sciences Du Comportement, 52(3), 177-187. doi: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lakeheadu.ca/10.1037/cbs0000215
Teen mental health impacts academic performance and social wellbeing:
Sijtsema, J.J., Verboom, C.E., Penninx, B.W.J.H. et al. (2014). Psychopathology and Academic Performance, Social Well-Being, and Social Preference at School: The TRAILS Study. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev 45, 273–284
Teens may feel frustrated, disconnected…recommendations for older children:
Imran, N., Zeshan, M., Pervaiz, Z. (2020). Mental health considerations for children and adolescents in COVID-19 Pandemic. Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences, 36(S4), S67.
Social media effects on teen mental health:
Kelly, Y., Zilanawala, A., Booker, C., & Sacker, A. (2018). Social Media Use and Adolescent Mental Health: Findings From the UK Millennium Cohort Study. EClinicalMedicine, 6, 59–68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2018.12.005
Sleep and mental health in teens:
James E. Gangwisch, PhD, Lindsay A. Babiss, BA, Dolores Malaspina, MD, Blake J. Turner, PhD, Gary K. Zammit, PhD, Kelly Posner, PhD, Earlier Parental Set Bedtimes as a Protective Factor Against Depression and Suicidal Ideation, Sleep, Volume 33, Issue 1, January 2010, Pages 97–106, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/33.1.97
Stevenson, S. (2016). Sleep Smarter: 21 essential strategies to sleep your way to a better body, better health, and bigger success. Rodale Inc. United States.
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