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One Year of a Global Pandemic: How Can We Help Teens?

What’s going on?

What will be the impact of the lost year? Let’s take a look at factors that we notice are weighing on youth the most:

Lack of day-to-day social interaction. When you ask kids what they like most about school they usually talk about their friends and extracurricular activities, not academics.  Social skill and growth come from exposure to opportunities to practice and these have been greatly limited for over a year. Teens are likely to experience a bit of social “rustiness” as they return to the social pressure cooker that is middle and high school. Young people who may have been behind the curve socially may find it particularly startling to go back to the classroom and may experience social anxiety or sadness as they observe a widening gap with their peers.

Relaxing of academic expectations. It is no secret that academic expectations have been eased for a year and teens are beginning to worry about how they will be able to move into higher math, science, or language class without a strong academic foundation to stand on. Many teens are experiencing diminished academic fluency as the pandemic drags on. It remains to be seen how this academic year will impact long term academic achievement.

Grief associated with a global pandemic. Teens have had reduced interaction with extended family and sadly for many, increased personal experience with death of loved ones. Routines have been disrupted, athletics reduced, and the losses and uncertainty about COVID have all contributed to understandable sadness and anxiety.

How can adults help?

Now more than ever, teens need adult compassion and support. Teachers, coaches, parents and other trusted adults are critically needed to guide teens through this crisis. Keep the following tips in mind:

Validate. Give them opportunities to vent. Listen. Sit with them when they complain, despair, and cry. Let them know their emotions make sense and that you are there for them.

Extend kindness and compassion. Offer warmth and patience. Imagine what all of this must be like for a young person and channel that empathy into your responses.

Help problem solve. Ask if they would like help with problem solving. If they say no, then stay focused on validating. If yes, model problem solving by collaboratively looking at possible solutions and steps for implementing them.

Provide hope. When the team is trailing in the final inning, the players need cheering! Be a cheerleader for your kids and demonstrate the hope that they may be having trouble accessing.

Finally, take care of yourself. Caregivers need care too. Prioritize self-care and balance it with caring for others. You will be modeling effective stress management and will be a more effective teacher, coach, parent, therapist, or youth worker. We will get through this together!