Supporting Your Teen and Caring for Yourself During Covid-19
- Dr. Adams, Dr. Speer, Rebekah Bryson
Anxiety in Teens
It is natural for teens (and adults) to feel anxious at times. Not only is it natural, it is adaptive and can be helpful in many situations, such as when preparing for a test or being extra careful while driving through a storm. However, interfering anxiety is increasingly present in teens, and it’s important to recognize the signs that intervention may be needed. These signs include:
- Unrealistic worry over everyday things and trouble letting go of them
- Trouble concentrating and making decisions
- Restlessness, shaking or trembling, fatigue, headaches, other unexplained physical symptoms
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
Your first step is to listen. If your teen initiates a conversation with you about any of the above or if you ask about behaviors you’ve noticed, listen to the response. Avoid the temptation to make them feel better or offer solutions right away. Validate your teen’s experience simply by summing it up and repeating it. You can add comments like, “that is hard” or “that sounds frustrating.” Next, normalize your teen’s experience by pointing out that some degree of anxiety/discomfort is natural under these circumstances. Be very careful that your messaging is more along the lines of “you’re not alone” and not, “this isn’t a big deal because everyone feels this way.” Now you and your teen can work together to explore tools that might offer relief and positive coping. These tools might include meditation, exercise, deep breathing, journaling, creating art, or listening to music.
If symptoms significantly impair functioning parents should consult with their child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional to assess current needs and develop an appropriate treatment plan. The following resources explain more about anxiety and the treatment for anxiety:
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry www.aacap.org site includes PDF Facts for Families entitled The Anxious Child
- American Psychological Association www.apa.org Psychology Help Center, topic; Anxiety provides PDF entitled FYI Understanding Anxiety Disorders and Effective Treatment
We know how critical social connections are to teens, and it has been difficult for families to find the right balance between limiting health risks while maintaining those relationships. Here are some helpful tips for coaching your teens in the area of socialization during Covid-19, and as always with teens, it helps to engage them in dialogue and joint problem-solving.
Coach them to identify priorities
- Which friends/situations are the most important to you?
- What family needs are present? (grandparent health, medical needs)
Coach them to make wise choices
- Do you feel your friends (or their parents) have the same values as you related to social distancing?
- Are you being respectful of friends who have more strict values and are choosing not to socialize, and finding ways to keep them connected to the group?
Coach them to be safe
- Wear their mask when around big groups of people and set an example
- Do not share foods/drinks/chapsticks/etc.
- Change clothes after they have been in large groups of people
Coach them to think outside the box
- Help them recognize importance of social CONNECTEDNESS versus just social contact and how that can be obtained in different ways
Parenting teens can be a stressful and ever-changing process. During the time of COVID-19, this job became more complicated. The focus of these tips is to develop habits that allow you to parent thoughtfully, communicate effectively, and maintain an overall positive relationship with your teen.
Communicate and Collaborate
- Be Gentle– show kindness and respect
- Be Interested– not just in behavior and performance, but in who they are becoming as a person and who/what is helping them with that process
- Be Willing– model flexibility towards a mutually satisfactory solution
- Actively (and regularly) take steps to maintain wellness which will reduce your vulnerability to strong emotions and impulsive reactions.
- Physical exercise
- Healthy sleep habits
- Non-task oriented time for stillness and reflection
- Time for your mind to be challenged
- Social connections
- Time to play/Recreation
- Model self-care and make it a family activity
- Take walks, get exercise
- Play a game
- Watch a show together
- Cook a meal
- Become a mindful parent…or, at least work to become a mindful parent
- Utilize strategies to help you observe what’s happening in interactions with your teen, describe your thoughts and feelings as well as the facts, and participate in the moment
We recognize that parenting a teen is difficult during normal times, and when you add in all that the current pandemic has brought with it, we are not surprised to hear about the struggles teens and parents are having. Help your teen normalize the difficulty of the current experience, and help yourself by normalizing the difficulty of parenting amidst the current experience, and the benefit of seeking support when you need it.