The past few weeks have been very stressful for all of us.
COVID-19 has uprooted our routines, schedules and lifestyle.
Regardless of our age, most of us want to know the answers to four basic questions:
•Am I safe?
•Are the people caring for me safe?
•How am I going to be affected by this?
•When will life return to normal?
Adolescence is a challenging time no matter what the circumstances, but the coronavirus is making that even more difficult.
The teen years, by nature, are a very social time.
Young adults are beginning to develop larger social groups and are allocating more time away from their families.
Their peers and social events such as sports, clubs, music ensembles, work and school functions are very important.
Although many teens complain about it, attending school is a major event and influence in their lives.
The sudden changes in a teenager’s routine can be very stressful and cause many different emotions to rise to the surface.
Sometimes these emotions are expressed in negative ways.
Parents may notice their child demonstrate more reckless behavior, acting out or becoming overly fearful.
Teens may want to distance themselves from family or even friends.
These are common responses to stress, and according to UNICEF, typical responses when someone of this age is feeling overwhelmed and cannot express their emotions.
What can parents do to help their teenagers deal with stress?
According to the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, parents should have an open dialog about their teenager’s fears and answer their questions as honestly as possible.
Validate their feelings and respond with open-ended questions to allow them to express what they are thinking.
Use such questions as: What have you heard? Where did you hear that? How are you feeling?
Remember teenagers may need time to process what they are thinking; be available for them when they are ready to talk and give them time alone to process this new and changing information.
The important thing to remember is they are looking for reassurance from you, the person whom they trust.
Another important thing to remember is teenagers are very tuned into what they see their parents doing.
Model the behavior you expect them to demonstrate.
Take care of your physical health and practice the suggested guidelines for protecting yourself and others such as proper handwashing and social distancing.
While it is important to share your feelings with your teen, try to remain as positive as possible.
Have an open conversation about emotions to get them to speak about their feelings.
Try starting a conversation with phrases such as, I know I have been feeling anxious about X, but how are you feeling about this?
It is OK to be honest with them about your feelings and this honesty may be a good way to open a dialogue to get them talking about their feelings.
Teenagers may be looking to you to help them deal with the disruption of their daily routine.
Think about some ways you can help them establish a new routine.
Helping other family members may make them feel valued and important.
Assisting a younger sibling with schoolwork or playing with them while you work from home can give your teenager a feeling of purpose.
Don’t rely on them too much though, all teenagers need their own time and space.
Ask them what they think they can do to help others.
Teens are very observant and often have great ideas but just need the opportunity or encouragement to express themselves.
Suggest things like calling elderly relatives or friends, if possible, do yardwork for elderly neighbors or write letters to those who might not have a lot of social contact.
Your teenager wants to feel connected and is missing the social interactions of others.
Reach out to their school or specific teachers for advice on keeping up with schoolwork.
Let the school know if you are having difficulty connecting to online resources – they may have suggestions to help with this.
Boredom is a very real issue.
This sudden free time can cause a lot of anxiety and stress.
Suggest activities such as reading a book, watching movies, revisiting a favorite game from their childhood, writing a short story, creating a video, cooking or practicing an instrument.
Your teenager may want to reach out to a favorite teacher.
Remind them their teachers are missing them too and are also feeling isolated.
You could also suggest taking a walk or riding a bike (remembering to practice social distancing), enjoying a hobby that may have been put on the back burner when other things took precedence.
Introduce them to something you enjoy doing, such as a handcraft.
There are many online resources available to people of all ages. Online performances, concerts, podcasts, exercise classes, dance classes, cooking classes, crafting or yoga are just a few.
You might also suggest your teenager start a journal of their experiences during this time.
It will be quite a story to share when they are older!
Most importantly, let your teenager know it is OK to be experiencing all the feelings that they have.
They are suffering a huge loss and missing what is very important to them.
Remind them this is all going to end, but right now it is necessary to protect not only themselves but everyone around them.
Being available to help your teenager find a balance and express their feelings is the best way to help them navigate this very difficult time.
Editor’s note: Debra Griffie, Ed.D., CHES is the food, family and health educator for Penn State Extension, Lehigh and Northampton counties.