With thousands of teeagers not returning to school or university, parents are being urged to have reassuring conversations with their “quaranteenager” to support their mental wellbeing.
The restrictions imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19 have felt especially tough for many teenagers. They have been deprived of their friends, they feel unsure about their exams and worried about job prospects in a post-pandemic economy.
Without the normal routine and structure of school and college, teenagers have been starved of some of the support and reassurance they are accustomed to as they grow in emotional maturity and approach adulthood. These circumstances can leave them feeling overwhelmed, damaging their self-confidence and motivation.
A recent survey by Young Minds in the UK found that 80 percent of young people with a history of mental health problems say they’ve got worse since the pandemic began.
Tanya Dharamshi, clinical director and counselling psychologist at Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai, has seen a surge in teenagers struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since schooling went online.
“Many teenagers have seen life as they know it completely turned upside down,” she says. “Even with the gradual lifting of restrictions, their situation remains unchanged. They have had to contend with home-learning, isolation from their friends, cancellation of major events in their calendars such as the school prom, graduation ceremonies and launching themselves into the job market.”
This is a crucial time in their development into fully rounded adults and so it’s only natural that many are struggling to accept and adapt, she says.
There is a huge amount of anxiety, stress, disappointment, anger, resentment and grief among teenagers right now, feelings that teenagers may be taking out on their parents and family members.
It can be hard for parents to find the right balance between being there for their struggling teenager and stifling them when they crave space and autonomy, she says.
Patience and understanding from parents is key. Dharamshi recommends the following steps:
Do some change coaching
The most important thing is to reassure your teenager that change, no matter how big or small, is a normal part of life. They should be encouraged to see their role in a global challenge, where the whole world is learning how to prepare for all the changes life will throw at them in the future. Being able to embrace change and develop coping strategies is vital and something to aspire to during this time, which can often save them from a lot of unhappiness and heartache in the future.
Help nurture friendships
Being with their peers is key for a teenager’s development. They learn and develop their identity and beliefs as a result of mixing, socialising and chatting about important issues with their friends. They learn how to read behaviours and non-verbal cues, how to interact with their peers and teachers in a variety of situations. This is now severely limited, making it even more important for them to maintain regular, interactive contact with friends, whether over the phone or via video chat. It’s crucial for them to both hear the change in voice and see facial expressions. Encourage them to take part in an activity they enjoy with friends over a video call. They could also discuss a new skill they could learn together, such as cooking or a new language. Doing an activity together tends to lead to enjoyment and laughter and helps to take their focus away from the crisis.
Lead by example
Children, no matter their age, regard their parents and caregivers as role models and look to them for guidance and reassurance. Calm, confident and reassuring adults will naturally help to encourage the same qualities in young people. Be there to support them emotionally, verbally and physically. Even the most “grown-up” and independent teenagers need a hug from time to time. Normalize and validate what they are feeling and share how this is affecting you as well, but look toward developing skills to help support each other with check-ins, daily hugs and rituals that you can develop to create a safe, secure space in which to give vent to feelings and also to strengthen yourselves and each other.
Limit social media
There is potential for some teenagers to develop a greater dependence on their electronic devices at this time. They can become totally absorbed, running the risk of becoming even more isolated from family and friends and, in turn, even more anxious due to countless news reports and never-ending statistics. It is hard to set a limit but creating a structure that incorporates electronic time for school, time for communication with friends and time for exercise and outdoor activity is key to achieving healthy results and maintaining balance.
Exercise and getting outdoors helps to release “feel good” chemicals in our brain, which are crucial for maintaining positive mental health. Discuss the importance of going out of the house for daily exercise and contacting someone outside their household daily so that they are practising some social skills for when lockdown eases and face-to-face social contact occurs again. These small but significant steps can help prevent total avoidance of social contact and will help to reduce anxiety levels.
Develop a ‘worry box’
Whether it’s worrying about exams, college places or job placements, encourage your child to help process their feelings by getting things off their chest and writing their worries down. Accept and validate that they have fears and worries, like adults, but help them find ways to shift focus and not allow the fear and worry to define their thoughts. It’s helpful for teenagers to occupy their minds with something else, like talking with a parent, ringing up a friend (talking not texting) or engaging in a hobby or skill. The key is to be mindful; it encourages complete engagement and focus on an activity while doing it and keeps you focused on being “present.”
Set the tone
While normal life may currently be on hold and there may be many activities that they can’t do, it’s so important to remain positive and focus on what they can do. There’s now more time to hang out with brothers and sisters and bond with other family members. There’s time to read that book they’ve always wanted to, re-watch their favourite movies or learn to play a musical instrument. Help your teenager get creative and use their new abundance of time wisely.
Preparing for the future — not predicting it
No one can predict the future and quite often when we try, it can make us more anxious or result in us putting a negative spin on things, which only perpetuates our anxiety. Discuss with your teenager how they can prepare themselves for their future, rather than worrying about it. This could include, for example, starting to read books for their A Levels or university course, learning to touch-type, doing some fund raising or doing voluntary work to enhance their CV and keeping themselves healthy through exercise. You could talk to your teenager about important factors employers look for other than academic grades, such as team working, good communication skills and working on personal strengths and weaknesses.
- This article was provided by The Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai.