Worried about the effects the pandemic is having on your teen’s mental health? You’re not alone…
Our teens have spent the majority of the past year locked up and lonely. It’s a situation none of us ever imagined we’d have to face in our lifetimes, and it’s been a rollercoaster of tiers, restrictions and lockdowns. For teens, they’ve missed out on school, hanging with friends, and those special rites of passage: the very first driving lessons; their first legal drink; prom and graduation ceremonies; moving into student halls… the list is endless. It’s no wonder many teens are reporting feeling cheated, as if their best years have been stolen from them, as well as feeling sad and depressed.
Mental Health In The Media
Teen mental health has never been more in focus than it is right now. There have been a number of worrying reports in the media recently about the increased threat to our children’s mental health due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Guardian reported findings that around 7% of children have tried to hurt themselves by the age of 17 and almost one in four admitted they had tried to harm themselves in the past year.
On the same weekend, The Guardian also published a stark warning from NHS doctors revealed that eating disorder case numbers had risen by a shocking 56% in the wake of the coronavirus restrictions. Troubling figures, indeed, but perhaps not completely shocking. Those of us with teens at home know only too well just how drastically the pandemic has affected all aspects of their lives.
How Can I Help My Teen?
We’re watching our teens struggle daily and it’s the most helpless feeling in the world. As parents, we’ll do whatever it takes to make our child happy, but this is one big problem that’s completely out of our hands. We don’t make the rules, we don’t set the tiers, and we definitely do not know how to make COVID-19 disappear overnight.
But we do have the tools to help our teens through this. Each and every one of us. We can equip ourselves with listening ears, loving hearts and an understanding mind. We’ll listen when they scream in frustration at not being able to see their friends and offer hugs, reassurance and comforting words to validate and acknowledge their pain. There are lots of ways we can engage with our teen to support them through the turmoil of lockdown and to help them take care of their mental health.
Home Schooling & Study
Encourage your teen to stick to a routine. You can work together to create a simple timetable and agree on a wake-up time for midweek. You might be met with reluctance, but you can always sweeten the deal with an agreement to let them lie in on the weekends or a suggestion of half-and-half days: a morning of schoolwork and then an afternoon doing something else they enjoy.
Try to stick to the same routine every week. Explain to your teen why you are suggesting routine. It really can be beneficial to your their mental health. Having a loose structure to their day, much like they would at school, gives your teen stability and a sense of purpose.
Remote learning is throwing up many challenges for teens – and parents. Whether it’s a dodgy Teams connection or confusion over an assignment, remote learning can be frustrating at times. Try to support your teen wherever you can. You can offer to read over their essays, help them link up to online meetings or simply listen when they have a school-related crisis. Remember, teachers are on-hand to help if you come across a problem outside of your capabilities or control. You can find more helpful tips on How To Make Home Schooling A Success here.
Protecting and looking after our teen’s mental health has never been more important. We might not have all the answers or be able to fix every issue, but, as parents, it’s down to us to make sure our child knows that their feelings are valid and important.
Give your teen space and time to air their grievances and disappointments. They’re dealing with a sense of loss, in a way – the loss of their golden years. They need to be heard and understood, to talk through their feelings and to try and make some sense of it all. Giving a hug and saying that you understand their feelings can go a long way to helping them do just that.
Understand that your teen may want to spend a lot more time on social media because they miss their friends badly. They’ve lost their social life and the time spent with mates at school. If you have concerns about your teen using social media, you can encourage them to interact with friends outdoors instead (if restrictions allow) or suggest a Zoom call to direct them away from Snapchat et al.
Encourage healthy habits wherever you can. Start with your teen’s sleep. Are they getting enough? Encouraging older teenagers to go to bed at a reasonable time isn’t an easy task but it might help to remind them of the benefits of a good night’s sleep.
Aim to make healthy meals wherever possible with the odd treat night. Treats could work as rewards for their hard work with home schooling or for managing to get through a particularly rough day. We’re all struggling, right now, and the occasional treat or pat on the back is really needed.
You can incorporate a family walk into your routine to get your teen outside in the fresh air. If your teen isn’t the outdoors type, try to find an activity they enjoy and set them a challenge or join in. Yoga, weights, dancing – whatever works. There are lots of great free apps that focus on fitness and exercise challenges. Why not team up with your teen and see just how far you can push yourselves?
When To Get More Help
If you have more serious concerns about your teen’s mental health or wellbeing, reach out to your GP. There is help out there so please don’t suffer in silence. There are lots of helplines and support groups available to help you and your teen through this.