Teenagers are currently living through their generational crisis, many unaware of the gravity and historical relevance of current events. Consider the impact on a young person’s life:
- Schools are closed and academic instruction is abbreviated online
- Sports are cancelled, personal and professional
- Social interaction is curtailed
- Family time has increased
- Screen time has increased
- Sleep routines have changed
- Daily structure has declined
Each of these changes has ripple effects for mood, behavior, and physical health. When combined, the consequences are considerable. What can we do to ease the impact?
Accepting reality paradoxically allows for problem solving. The reality is that there are many things kids can no longer do – so where does that leave them? With many things they CAN do! Focusing on the areas in which teens have control shifts the focus away from anger and frustration. For example, a student athlete who had been going to practice every day after school may need to shift to independent workouts with items available to them at home and guidance from their coach online. Or a teen who no longer has access to what’s needed to pursue a passion or skill has an opportunity to shift focus and take on something new they didn’t have time for previously.
Parents and teachers are in a unique position to validate the difficulties teens face. Validating feelings teaches acceptance and is essential for mood management. Validation communicates that emotions make sense. Everyone is in the same boat, so it’s easier to do! Try simply acknowledging the difficult feelings that young people are expressing:
- “Yes, it makes sense that you’re upset that prom has been cancelled.”
- “I’m sad too when I can’t see my friends in person.”
- “Staring at a screen all day is taxing, it’s understandable that you’re irritable.”
- “Of course you’re worried, we don’t know when this is going to end.”
While structure is helpful for all of us, it is particularly beneficial to children and teenagers. The scaffolding that provided structure a month ago is largely gone. For many teens there is no more alarm clock, bus to catch, bell schedule, practice after school, etc. Creating some structure at home can offset this to some degree. Consider taking a family walk at an established time daily, eating meals together, watching a show or movie together as a routine, or some other scheduled activity. It’s also important to also give teens private time – it’s developmentally appropriate for teens to want time to themselves. Establish a consistent wake up time even if it shifts to later in the day.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” -Ian McLaren
Everyone has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all struggling in our own ways. Expressing kindness and warmth to young people is so important, EVEN WHEN they are grumpy, irritable, bored, complaining, and ungrateful. By no means should you accept abusive or disrespectful behavior but consider letting some things go while we are going through this crisis and erring on the side of love and kindness. Kindness has a calming and soothing impact on others and activities the parasympathetic nervous system, generating warm and pleasant feelings. Kindness is like the warm blanket just out of the dryer – it just makes us relax. Pair kindness with validation and see what happens!
Britt Rathbone, LCSW-C