As we continue to adapt to the multiple changes in our lives, we recognize that the impact on children and adolescents has been significant. Recent articles have identified teens as a group of “unsung heroes” of these times, as they have had to rapidly accept an abrupt end to their school year, missed milestones including graduations for which they are grieving and changes to their relationships with friends. Throughout adolescence, peer interactions occupy a primary and important role in holistic development. Young people rely on friendships to support their emerging sense of self as peers are most likely to understand the nuances of culture and expression of their generation. We all remember how important our friends were to us during those years. With the necessary restrictions in social interaction, many young people continue to be denied the opportunity to frequently connect with their friends.
It is no surprise, therefore, that many parents are reporting periods of irritability and sullenness by their teens at home. The wide variation inconsistent access to the internet and social media among peers has become apparent. Considering that this is the primary means of communication, the differences between homes has left some young people lonely and unsure. Supporting healthy communication and social networking for teens is essential to mitigating any further distress since they are already grappling with so many factors which are completely out of their control.
Explore virtual celebrations
Teens may have been eagerly awaiting milestone birthdays, upcoming vacations or completing major examinations. While we remain grateful for life and health, create ways in which at home, or online, you can help them still celebrate important days. It is the memory of the event that will remain, and so make all efforts not to allow these days to pass unnoticed.
Endorse their ideas
While online conferencing has become a staple for work-from-home initiatives allow your teens to express their preferences as to how they communicate with friends. Parents should not force or demand their teens to use certain apps but should instead be supportive and supervising as they explore virtual substitutes.
Parents may be tempted to remind their teens that they are ”lucky to be healthy during a worldwide pandemic” and that any sadness or frustration due to missing their friends is trivial. The teen brain has limited capacity to fully understand more abstract concepts, and while parents should certainly reinforce feelings of gratitude with their teens, they should still recognize the impact of ongoing sorrow on emotional health. Identifying their emotions and supporting them through is much preferred to using them as a source of conflict at home.
Although we recognize a new reliance on technology and virtual connectivity, the rules and monitoring of your family need to remain in force. Parents need to remain mindful of the platforms their teens are using and to make sure they are being safe. Cyberbullying, grooming and exposure to inappropriate and explicit content remain risks of the virtual world and must not be forgotten. In addition, as some physical restrictions are lifted, parents should cast a vigilant eye over older teens and young adults. Ensure that they make wise decisions and remain safe and sensible in their activities so that they too are protected from accidents or injury.
Engage in Mindful Practice
Mindfulness allows teenagers (and their parents) the opportunity to be still and recognize their emotions. The pandemic and associated changes have been overwhelming, and are not yet over. We can expect that with the phases of re-opening, there will be even more to grapple with. A consistent practice of mindful activity supports them in navigating any negative emotions and finding strategies to approach them without judgement and with a sense of calm. Mindful breathing activities or journaling are often acceptable and enjoyable to teenagers and can become ingrained habits that they take forward into their adult lives.
“Keep your words supportive and full of empathy when talking to your teens. Minimizing their distress is unhelpful, as they are managing and grieving many missed or delayed milestones and need their emotional balance restored.”
Dr Asha Pemberton