The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone. But, it may have a greater effect on our teenagers. There are several developmental reasons for this.
Sense of Identity
A key developmental task of the teenage years is to develop a sense of identity. Identity refers to a person’s sense of self as an individual. It also include show someone defines their values, beliefs, and role in the world. Teens develop their identity by trying out different roles and attitudes. Places they do this are at home, school, and in social atmospheres. Do you remember your own pictures of funky hair-dos and clothes with friends from your teen years?
With the pandemic, teens are unable to be in a social atmosphere with friends face-to-face. School closures have also limited their interactions. This has made it more difficult to develop and express a strong sense of self. A strong identity helps teens shape their sense of belonging and increases their self-esteem.
Move Toward Greater Independence
Another key task of the teenage years is to move away from parents and toward greater independence. It is a time to focus on peer relationships and dating. During the pandemic, these opportunities have been taken away from them. There are limited environments in which they can hang out or date. They can’t go to the movies, go out for dinner, or even sit at Tim Horton’s for coffee. Being at home you’re your parents full-time can really throw a wrench into any teenager's dating scene. It’s important to understand your teen’s frustration about this. A teen’s ability to be independent and date are two very important milestones of the teen years.
Brain Development and Emotions
The teen years are also a sensitive time for brain development. Teenage brains adapt by changing structure and function in response to experiences. Because teen brains are still developing, teens experience strong feelings and intense emotions. So, think about how you’re feeling, and imagine having those emotions intensified. This is what your teen is experiencing. Try to be empathetic to this stage of their development and how intense these feelings are for them.
Schools area source of social and emotional learning. There are strengths-based programs to teach teens wellness strategies to manage their stress. These programs are hard to put in place with online learning. Many of the other activities that teens enjoy have also been cancelled (i.e., sports, plays, improv teams, graduation ceremonies, etc.).
For over one year now, teens have missed out on many normal experiences. This can create feelings of loneliness and decrease their confidence. It can also increase their levels of stress, worry, and sadness. But, there are some things that parents can do to help.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO
Be a Role Model
Let teens see you form and maintain positive relationships with them and others. Ask them to look over a letter that you wrote to their grandparent that you’re going to mail. Or, you can involve them in talking to family and friends via an online platform. Modelling positive relationships will encourage your teens to do the same. Involving them in helping you continue to build these relationships will create a sense of confidence and self-efficacy.
Keep Talking and Listening
Teens may not always want to share how they are feeling with their parents. Don’t be afraid to start the dialogue by communicating your own emotional experiences .Let your teen know that you’re there to listen. When they do share, validate your teen’s feelings. You can also set up a time each day to talk to your teens. Sharing a meal together may be a perfect time for this. Disclosing and labeling your emotions can open the door to help your teen process their own emotions.
Join Together in Supporting Others
Do some random acts of kindness as a family. Together you can rake a neighbour’s yard or sweep their driveway. You can hold physically distanced canned food or toiletry drives. Empower your teen by involving them in making a decision about what your family does. Helping others has been shown to increase positive feelings and self-worth.
Structure and routine are important. It helps people to feel more in control. Now that teens need to stay home more often, they may need to create space from other family members. Involve your teen in setting up a schedule about who will use certain parts of the house and when. You can also set up a weekly chore and activity list. Add exercise into your family’s weekly schedule. Check out this workout created by Med-I-Well Services. Certainty provides everyone with a sense of order and improves emotional health and well-being.
Encourage Outdoor Activities
Nature sounds, like chirping birds and rushing water, help improve health and well-being. Find a walking path or hike in nature- being surrounded by greenspace is shown to produce even greater benefits. Encourage your teen to get out for a walk independently or with you.
Talk with an Expert
Talking with a mental health professional is always an option. People do not need to experience symptoms of anxiety or depression to do so. Having a confidential and non-judgmental space to share emotional experiences can be healthy and helpful for teens. Free counselling services for teens under the age of 18 are available at COMPASS or the Sudbury Action Centre for Youth. Your teenagers can also access counselling through your EAP provider.